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My Medtech Business

Philip Salt is Chief Executive of Salts Healthcare, a provider of stoma care and orthotic products based in Birmingham. A family-run company with a 300 year history, Salts Healthcare now sells into Europe (including Scandinavia), the USA, Australia and Japan. 

What are your main priorities as Chief Executive of Salts Healthcare?

There are three brothers who run the company. Peter is the Managing Director and in addition looks after our UK sales division, which currently represents the largest part of our business. Robert heads up our rapidly growing and strategically important export sales. I see my main function as managing the strategic direction of the company. The main objective of that is to increase the company’s wealth so we can reinvest in machinery, manufacturing and innovation. I also look after quality and manufacturing.

I am involved in the British Healthcare Trades Association, and sit on their Board of Directors. That’s important for us: I try to look outside the company, and Peter looks more to the inside. I also sit on the Ministerial Medical Technology Strategy Group (MMTSG), which meets regularly in London to discuss innovation in medical technology and other issues of strategic importance to the NHS and the medtech Industry.

To what factors does Salts Healthcare owe its current success in both domestic and international markets?

It’s listening to the customer, and our direct links with customers or patients and patient associations, which enable us to determine what is actually required by the market. We have regular meetings with them and focus groups to decide on priorities for innovation.

At the same time, we are fully aware of the purchasing constraints of the NHS in the UK and the need to keep costs down and provide value for money. To this end we continuously work on our manufacturing methods to take cost out.

For export, innovation and keeping cost down are key measures. Our policy is to provide well-designed products that are fit for purpose, so a good quality system is essential to ensure we provide value for money.

Another success factor is our staff. We’ve had Investors in People accreditation for about nine years. While the award itself is not the objective, it’s a measure of how well we concentrate on staff and training. It’s very important that all our staff are appropriately trained to do their job.

We see working with universities as imperative for developing new products. We work very closely with Aston University, especially on Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) projects. We’ve taken on three postgraduates to work full-time on our skin adhesive products. We also work with Staffordshire University on orthopaedic products through a KTP project.

Salts Healthcare was practising homecare before it was the ‘latest thing’. How do you view the community healthcare market in the UK?

We had always practised home healthcare in orthotics as part of our core business. We became involved in stoma care in 1948.

The community healthcare market is a growing and very competitive market, and a key area for Salts to do business. The NHS stoma care market provides one of our main customer bases. We sell to practitioners, stoma care nurses and GPs, showing our products to patient groups and advertising in targeted press. We also have licensed branches throughout the UK where patients visit us to seek advice, collect products and have appliances modified.

There are some worrying aspects to the community market. Certain areas and Trusts are tendering to have one supplier only – I don’t think that is healthy either for the patient, who should have a choice of what products they use, or for the NHS itself, as a monopoly in one area could eventually drive prices up. We believe strongly in the Drug Tariff system. This is the same system that generates prescriptions for drugs, and is governed by the same statute. It prevents postcode prescribing and ensures a national quality standard. Products listed on the Drug Tariff have their prices negotiated centrally, thus ensuring uniform value for money and transparency. Once Trusts start tendering for a sole supplier in one area, there may be a ‘one hit’ benefit, but it will take away patient and clinician choice. It also removes local competition – and ultimately threatens national competition.

The NHS is an excellent driver of innovation and UK manufacturing. Quality standards and value for money will continually improve if competition exists. But rapid, multiple and uncoordinated changes in NHS procurement strategy would have a long-term damaging effect on industry, and would ultimately lead to reduced choice and higher cost.

Salts have always planned for the long term and we believe that the strategy of reinvesting in manufacturing, innovation and service to the customer will allow us to survive the peaks and troughs of the market and continue to thrive.

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