Many consultants acknowledge that patients feel better and recover faster when treated in their own homes. This fact has fuelled the success of Healthcare at Home, set up by Charles Walsh in 1992 to offer specialist nursing care. Walsh, a former senior strategist at BP, had seen the idea work in America, where it was the fastest-growing sector of the healthcare system for 10 years. But he had to struggle to get his first NHS patient, a woman suffering from a rare form of leukaemia. He employed an oncology nurse who stayed in a hotel close to the patient, where she administered the complex treatment. The company now employs 130 full-time specialist nurses who treat 3,000 patients a year in their homes. The bills are paid by private-health insurers or, in certain circumstances, by the NHS. Healthcare at Home also uses nurses to sell its service to senior NHS consultants in the belief that they will be more convincing than salesmen on commission. It promotes nurses with commercial awareness to head its network of 18 regional offices. A recent growth area has been a clinical-trial service, whereby drug companies use the Healthcare at Home nurses to administer complex new medicines that would otherwise not gain wide acceptance. With skilled nurses gathering data on patient reactions, the drugs can enter the market faster. The Staffordshire company, which has expanded to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, claims that 200 top NHS consultants now refer patients to it regularly. This has helped to drive up sales 161% a year from £1.7m in 1997 to £30.5m in 2000, when the firm employed 115 people.
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