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The Impact of COVID-19: A Case Study from Inspiration Healthcare

COVID-19 has brought a huge challenge to us at Inspiration Healthcare. As an SME with only 90 staff, we are one of the country’s leading suppliers of neonatal intensive care equipment and it was paramount that we stay open and focused on delivering equipment to the NHS and our export customers, however, we also wanted to rise to the challenge facing the country.  During the “swine flu” outbreak we helped save many lives through our 24/7 emergency hire service of ventilators. As a critical care equipment supplier, if we didn’t step up, who would? So when the call came, we used our contacts around the world to help!

Firstly, we managed to secure ventilators for the NHS from our supplier base. This was no mean feat in getting commercial deals done quickly and getting NHS Supply Chain to understand that demand around the world was increasing, therefore orders needed to be placed before the supplier sold the goods elsewhere. However, since then, export bans, component shortages, freight costs and availability have all had to be managed. Thankfully our supply chain team have risen to the task in hand and ventilators have started to flow, but there’s more work to do for our team to finish the job and get all the ventilators to the NHS.

At Inspiration Healthcare, our core focus is to put patients first. This has remained our priority throughout COVID-19 and demonstrated with our involvement in the ventilator challenge, the Prime Minister’s call to industry to help make ventilators. Over and above the work we did on the importation of CE marked products, we were delighted to be able to help with our independent sector knowledge to the various consortia that were embarking on clean sheet designs. We helped with usability, trying to source components, and providing our ventilator testing equipment.

Another part of our involvement in the fight against COVID-19 that we are particularly proud of was to be in the founding group of the VentilatorChallengeUK consortium, advising on the nuances of ventilation as the industrial partners of consortium did the ‘heavy lifting’ of helping scale production of Penlon and Smiths from 10’s of products per week to over a thousand a week, whilst maintaining compliance to medical device quality management systems! A remarkable feat by any stretch and the consortium’s dedication as non-medical device companies is truly commendable. Additionally, our team of quality engineers have provided critical support to the team at Penlon in the manufacturing of the ESO2 Emergency Ventilator. They were responsible for reviewing ventilators prior to packaging, completing visual, touch and functional inspections. They are honoured to have been able to play a part supporting Penlon and the wider consortium.

And finally on the ventilator challenge, we highlighted that having a huge number of ventilators from different manufacturers going to be used in extremely stressful conditions without the normal level of support and training provided by the supplier due to COVID-19 presented a potential problem for the clinical staff by the bedside. At Inspiration we have always provided 24/7 support, and we were delighted to be able to formalise this for all ventilators in the challenge to be able to use our support service. Needless to say we have had to have extensive training on the ventilators and change our sales and tech support teams working hours to provide full 24/7 cover for the NHS, but the team have been magnificent in the way they have responded.

Apart from the ventilators, there is of course the adaption of the day job… warehousing and manufacturing working shifts, staff working from home and using Teams and Zoom (isn’t it strange seeing your colleagues taste in interior design…). But as a supplier of critical equipment our clinical teams have had to adapt, our homecare team have had to implement new ways of delivering the same level of high-quality training to all end users for parenteral nutrition by adjusting to digital methods like Skype. Our factory remains busy and we continue to meet the demand of our customers around the world.

One of the best things that has happened though, is how we have met some great companies outside our industry who have offered to help us. A good example is one of our neighbours in Crawley, Thales, a large aerospace and defence company, have been amazing; from not knowing them at all, to a great collaboration of advice, to practical support! The true spirit of cooperation and friendship from other industries is perhaps something we will reflect on positively when we finally beat this disease.

So all in all, it has been a busy few weeks, a rollercoaster ride: the large orders and the work to bring the products to the NHS, the demands of helping scale ventilator supply, the stresses of ensuring staff are safe at work (wherever that may be), and keeping the products rolling out of the door for the patients that rely on us.  As a company we will come through this stronger and as an industry we will be better for the lessons learnt of how to deliver first class products under the most arduous of conditions. 

However, in all of this it is always the people who make the difference, our staff have been truly outstanding along with the staff of our suppliers, and perhaps most importantly, our customers, who are working in even more stressful conditions than us. We not only thank the NHS frontline teams, but the unsung heroes of the biomedical engineering, procurement and supply chain teams, as without their dedication the equipment our industry provides wouldn’t be getting to patients who need it most.

Neil Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, Inspiration Healthcare