Charles Walsh spent 12 years working in the oil industry for BP but, by the end of it, he wanted to run his own business. However, he had no idea what business to set up. So in 1992 he started to look for American business models that might be successfully transplanted to Britain. He produced a shortlist of six ideas and eventually plumped for ‘home infusion therapy’ – the medical treatment of people in their own homes, especially when their condition requires an intravenous drip. The service has long been popular in America, where the market is worth an estimated $10 billion. Walsh was convinced it had huge potential in Britain. ‘It is a proven fact that people feel better – and recover more quickly – when they are at home,’ he says. ‘And with the development of equipment that is mobile, there is no need for care to be administered in hospitals, which evolved essentially as the Victorians’ response to the challenge of treating the poor.’ A brilliant idea is one thing, putting it into practice is another. When Walsh set up Healthcare at Home in 1993 with the backing of the American healthcare provider Curaflex, he canvassed all 120 British health authorities but drew a complete blank. It was not until he turned to insurers that he got his first break – looking after a woman suffering from a form of leukaemia that required intravenous treatment with a drug as yet unlicensed in Britain. Her consultant agreed to the home therapy as the best course of action. A job well done led to other referrals, and today the company treats about 2,000 patients at any one time. It has 15 offices in Britain and three in Ireland and employs some of the top nurses in the country. The NHS is close to crisis with its shortgage of nurses, but Walsh says he has almost zero turnover of nursing staff, a fact he attributes to creating the best possible conditions for them to ‘get on and nurse’. The company is now so firmly established that some private consultants refer 90% of their patients to it and NHS patients make up 80% of its business. Healthcare at Home also derives revenues from the pharmaceutical industry, which pays the company to administer complex drugs that might otherwise remain unused and to conduct clinical trials in the home. Sales at the Brentford company have increased 224% a year, from £648,000 in 1996 to £22m in 1999. ‘Effectively, we have a unique position in the market,’ says Walsh, who sees no reason why his service should not be rolled out on the Continent. ‘Nobody else in the world is undertaking home treatment at this level of complexity – care before and after stem-cell transplant, for example. We estimate that up to a quarter of patients in hospital might be better treated at home.’
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