The Impact of COVID-19: A Case Study from P3 Medical
A Chinese Curse?
How often have business people recited the old mantra “may you live in interesting times”, otherwise known as the Chinese Curse. Interesting in this context has always been, in my experience, a euphemism for something a bit challenging or unusual. Nothing in my working life, which sadly now represents 40 years, has prepared me for anything as “interesting” as living through this crisis. I write as someone who several times has come within days of going bust. No racism intended in the way that Trump calls COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus”, but it is perhaps now true that we are experiencing a real Chinese Curse.
P3 is primarily a manufacturing business (although we also distribute for other manufacturers). We make a wide range of single-use devices which are used in surgical procedures including some which are used in airway management. We have seen an enormous surge in demand for anything to do with airway. We were of course delighted to pick up an unexpected increase in orders, such as supplying products for the incredibly impressive NHS Nightingale at Excel, but no manufacturer likes erratic demand patterns and my colleagues in production have certainly suffered from increased stress levels, as at the same as time, absenteeism has gone through the roof.
Managing staff has become a much more important part of daily life than normal. I think everyone has seen the extremes of human behaviour, from bizarre acts such as offensive attacks on clinicians and other public servants, right through to extraordinary kindness from volunteers and those offering help to complete strangers. The same is true in workplaces and we have had to try to balance the safeguarding of staff against the need to keep our business open and keep supplying some vital products to the front line with everyone having their own needs and opinions.
Over the years I have taken a lot of criticism for maintaining a manufacturing base in the UK when the bulk of our competition is in China. We have lost big contracts where price has trumped our design or quality, or where spurious procurement decisions remain unexplained to this day. That said, we do have products in our catalogue which are manufactured in the Far East, and we have great partners there, which, as most of you will know, presents its own challenges, as well as opportunities. I get the economists’ argument against protectionism, but I really wonder if our incredible NHS has gone too far in underestimating the value of having at least some suppliers who manufacture on its doorstep. The NHS has gradually eroded its local sourcing during my time in our sector. I hope when the current crisis is behind us, we might, as a community, revisit this calculation and give more consideration to a local sustainable supply chain. I am huge fan of UK manufacturing and some of the companies I admire most have managed to keep their UK factories.
My career is now split almost exactly 50/50 between big corporates and being on my own. Running a smaller business can sometimes be a lonely place and I have relied on ABHI to help bridge the gap between a corporate mothership and an independent SME. The support offered has been invaluable and I strongly recommend membership. I have been lucky enough to serve on the Board and have taken great inspiration and guidance from some the best brains in our sector. It is a privilege for which I will always be grateful, and I hope it is not indulgent to say I now consider some of our ABHI colleagues as good, and much-valued friends.
I don’t want to bore anyone with my personal life but some of you will know I have had my own challenge to deal with while trying to lead P3 through the crisis. I hope you won’t mind me giving a quick acknowledgement to our incredible team at P3 and our aforementioned friends at ABHI who have helped me through. I can safely say that the last few months have definitely deserved the adjective “interesting”. May you all survive these interesting times. Pob hwyl i pawb.
Simon Talbot, Managing Director, P3 Medical Ltd & ABHI Board member