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Interview with a Theatre Practitioner

The Other Side 10:


Interview with a Theatre Practitioner

Kim Shaw, former Senior Theatre Practitioner at Leicester Royal Infirmary, talks to On Target about purchasing medical equipment in the demanding environment of NHS surgery.

Kim Shaw comments: Until recently, I was working as a Senior Theatre Practitioner at Leicester Royal Infirmary. I shall draw on this past experience because in November 2006 I was appointed Deputy Theatre Manager at one of the clinics within the BPAS organisation, where the majority of decisions regarding purchasing are dealt with by the Purchasing Dept at head office. I have also drawn on the experiences of my former colleague Emile Forbes, himself a Theatre Practitioner and now Resources Manager in the Central Operating Dept, Leicester Royal Infirmary.

1. What types of healthcare products do you purchase? What factors influence your purchasing decisions?

The Central Operating Dept has 16 theatres covering various specialities. All of the routine daily consumables such as syringes, hypodermic needles, IV cannulae and oro-pharyngeal airways are purchased here, in addition to speciality-specific articles such as hip and metacarpal joint implants, ENT prostheses and vascular grafts. Surgical instruments such as scissors, forceps and retractors are purchased, and the requirements for basic haemodynamic monitoring are met. Major equipment for anaesthetic/surgical needs or patient monitoring is purchased through capital bids. Finding the cheapest package on offer is not the chief factor influencing purchasing decisions. It is too easy to be drawn into false ‘cheapest is best’ economies by accountants, when one can ultimately use twice as many consumables because of poor quality.

The NHS is not a place to be accepting sub-standard workmanship. Obviously value for money is a requirement, but this is also affected by the quality of the product and the after-sales service and backup. It’s too easy to accept a good offer on a product, only to be disillusioned with an expensive, inadequate backup service. Compatibility is a must, and the broader this is the better – not only for cost-effectiveness but for ease of training and recognition. Ultimately, though, the product must meet clinical standards: will it do the job we want it to?

2. What aspects of medical device sales and marketing do you find helpful? What aspects do you find unhelpful?

In a technological era, it goes without saying that websites are an important tool for the purchaser. But yours is a competitive industry, and in order to attract and retain the customer the website must:

a) be simple, yet eye-catching
b) be easy to navigate – lose us on the website and you’ve lost a customer
c) contain adequate information.

Customers want as much info as possible in front of them without having to research further or make phone enquiries. This is healthcare and not a business, and there is a limit to how much time we should spend on sales and marketing rather than with our patients.

If we make the decision to enquire further, then sales representatives must be informed and knowledgeable – not slimy, patronising “I’ll get back to you, don’t worry your pretty little head about it” types.O

The material on websites and in sales catalogues should not be in conflict with the information given by representatives: this Kim Shaw creates confusion and mistrust.

3. Is there anything in particular that sales professionals could do to meet your needs better?

Sales professionals are a unique breed of people and unfortunately do not endear themselves to everybody! But they would go a long way towards gaining the trust of the customer by being completely open and honest. I know that products need to be sold, so a certain amount of presentation spiel is necessary – but sell us what we want, not what you think we want. Trust us as professionals within our own field and that trust may be reciprocated.

Operating departments are busy places, so accurate communication is very important to save both parties from wasting time. We do not have the time for duplication of sales pitches or numerous information leaflets to two or more people working out of the same office. Do your homework and decide on the co-ordinator to do business with.

4. Which new medical technologies have you found most valuable in recent years? What further innovations are you hoping to see?

In recent years, there has been outstanding advancement in endoscopic (keyhole) surgery. It doesn’t seem long ago that this technique was limited to relatively simple diagnostic procedures in gynaecology and arthroscopy surgery. Today, there are few places or orifices where a camera cannot be inserted and used to life-saving effect. Diagnoses are made, tumours removed and pain relieved. This is due not only to improvement in surgical techniques and skills, but also to the development of precise endoscopic instrumentation and associated equipment.

In particular, the camera heads have become less bulky and more user-friendly, giving fantastic clear definition to aid the surgical and endoscopic team. One thing that would make one’s working life a little easier is further advances in IT communications systems – not just patient booking and tracking but advances in tracking systems for instruments and equipment, helping to eliminate much of the human error in manual tracking and equipment cataloguing.

5. How are current NHS reforms changing the way you approach purchasing decisions?

Decisions are becoming more corporate – which helps to increase purchasing power across a region, but great care must be taken to standardise equipment. Each regional hub will have its own favourite systems and providers, but common ground must be sought to maximise the region’s buying power and minimise disruption and unnecessary training to staff. If too many staff are unfamiliar with non-standard and incompatible equipment then extra training days, possible delays to operations and certainly costly agency staff to cover the shortfalls are needed.


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