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Blog: David Rolfe on Althea becoming world’s largest, independent managed service healthcare provider

“It’s an honour to announce that following the recent acquisition and integration of TBS, Althea has now become the world’s largest, independent managed service provider for the acute healthcare sector.

TBS are a world-leading biomedical and endoscopy company, so the merger is an extremely important step for us strategically.  We can now offer a wider range of services in biomed, endoscopy and in diagnostic imaging across all brands and modalities.

From the outset, Althea’s vision was to create the world’s first large-scale vendor-independent service provider.  The company is made up of over 3000 staff with the healthcare knowledge, clinical expertise, and technical excellence to understand the market and to offer healthcare providers industry-leading services that deliver performance improvements.  The result is a one-stop shop that offers hospitals a high-quality, independent, cost-effective alternative.

We offer hospitals efficiency and flexibility.  We can save them money by doing things in a smarter, more innovative way.  We are customer-orienteered and strive to take that extra step, each and every time. For example, we offer an out-of-hours service as standard.  We don’t disrupt clinical services, rather we free-up clinical time so that it can remain focused on patient care.

Being independent is vital as it means we are not tied to any one manufacturer or supplier and can offer all our customers the most efficient solution for their clinical needs.  This includes integrating our unique consumables management service which ensures life-changing procedures are supported by the most clinically-appropriate consumables in the right place, at the right time.

There is no doubt at all that we are disrupting the market for maintenance and managed services, and the original equipment manufacturers who once dominated the market have a good reason to be worried.  For the first time there is a large, innovative company that is safe and reliable.  We have an exciting twelve months ahead of us and I am excited for the future.”

David Rolfe, CEO of Althea UK & Ireland

Althea’s biomed merger ensures position as world’s largest independent hospital service provider

Althea is the world’s largest, vendor-independent managed service and maintenance provider for the acute healthcare sector, following the recent acquisition and integration of the TBS Group.

In the UK and Ireland, the healthcare service company offers NHS and private hospitals a range of technology solutions including managed services, multi-vendor maintenance, integrated clinical consumables management as well as equipment sales and rentals.

The integration of TBS GB means that Althea can now add endoscopy to complement its existing expertise in biomed and diagnostic imaging equipment.  The company now offers a breadth and quality of service that no-one else in the market can match.

David Rolfe, UK&I Chief Executive Officer comments: “TBS is a world-leading biomedical and endoscopy company, so the merger is an extremely important step for us strategically.  Integrating these services into our extensive portfolio means we are now able to offer a wider range of services than any other provider.”

Althea was originally created when seven leading service providers, each with a long-established track record in their respective markets, joined forces.

From the outset, their vision was to create the world’s first large-scale vendor-independent provider and give hospitals a choice when it comes to the selection, installation and maintenance of equipment.

Being entirely vendor-independent ensures Althea is not tied to any one manufacturer and can offer hospitals the most efficient solution for their clinical needs.

Today, the company is a one-stop shop that offers hospitals a high-quality, cost-effective alternative to original equipment manufacturers.  Althea’s in-house engineers maintain equipment directly to the highest standards underpinned by ISO-certified quality management systems.

David added: “We offer hospitals efficiency and flexibility. We have the healthcare knowledge, clinical expertise, and technical excellence to offer healthcare providers industry-leading services that deliver efficiency savings and performance improvements.  Our mission is to save our customers money by doing things in a smarter, more innovative way.”

Althea changes UK market as the new world-class independent provider

Signalling the most historic change in the medical equipment service industry since the introduction of vendor-independence, eight leading service providers have unified operations under a single brand – Althea. This combination of independent service companies, including Asteral, MESA, and TBS, has significantly increased the choice hospitals now have when they procure equipment and maintenance.

Focused on efficient solutions and reducing whole-life costs, Althea offers an alternative to the traditional original equipment manufacturers. Entirely vendor-independent, Althea’s services cover all hospital areas – from radiology to radiotherapy, from cardiology to biomed.

Althea’s in-house engineers maintain equipment directly to the highest standards underpinned by ISO-certified quality assurance.

With close to 3,000 staff worldwide, Althea is now the largest independent provider of medical equipment services with 1.4 million medical devices under management in more than 1,700 healthcare facilities. Althea focuses on its breadth and quality of service, freeing its customers to focus on patient care.

In the UK & Ireland, Althea offers sustainable healthcare technology solutions including:

  • Diagnostic imaging maintenance
  • Endoscopy maintenance
  • Biomed maintenance and training services
  • Managed services in radiology, cardiology, radiotherapy, endoscopy and biomed
  • Clinical consumable management service
  • Rental of mobile scanners, ultrasounds and endoscopes
  • Pre-owned equipment – buying and selling
  • Ultrasound probe and MR coil evaluation/repair

Althea’s engineers, technicians, and customer service specialists already support over 300 hospitals deliver financial savings and operational efficiencies, whilst making a positive difference to patient experience.

The companies that have been bought together by Althea are:

  • Asteral – managed service provider including integrated cardiology and interventional radiology clinical consumables management
  • MESA, MVS, Spintech, and Sigil – diagnostic imaging multi-vendor maintenance service providers
  • TBS and Higèa – biomed multi-vendor service providers
  • Ed Sloan & Associates – refurbished imaging equipment, spare parts, and engineer training.

Within the new group, an unparalleled network of diagnostic imaging Centres of Excellence have been established in Reading (UK), Milan (Italy), Mikołów (Poland), and Nashville (US) providing Althea with ISO13485-accredited multi-vendor engineer training and spare parts testing facilities.

David Rolfe, UK&I CEO comments:  “Asteral, MESA, and TBS have been pioneering in the UK & Ireland for over 15 years.  Now, as Althea, we have the capability and infrastructure to support clinical teams across all hospital departments – from cardiology to endoscopy, from an infusion pump to an MR scanner.  We use our scale and experience to leverage and deliver high-quality medical equipment, maintenance and clinical consumables in order to optimise patient outcomes, while providing the best possible value at all times.”

Alessandro Dogliani, Group CEO of Althea comments:  “We are at a tipping-point in our industry. There is now so much complex medical equipment in service in hospitals, clinics and health centres that their need for an independent technology partner is essential.  We have launched a company that brings together pioneers and experts from across the industry. Althea can offer a breadth and quality of service that no-one else in our market can match.  We are committed to working with customers to improve healthcare services.”

Althea delivers UK-first for UHL’s imaging department

On Saturday 5th November, University Hospitals of Leicester (UHL) in partnership with Althea, took delivery of a brand new, state-of-the-art MRI relocatable unit, a UK-first delivery for the Imaging Department at UHL. This relocatable unit replaces the Trust’s old trailer via their 18-year managed service contract, which has already seen a wave of replacements take place at UHL this year.

On Friday 10th February the unit was officially opened at the Leicester Royal Infirmary (LRI) by one of the Trust’s patients Luke Swain. Luke has been a patient of UHL’s since the age of nine when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Now twenty-two he has had regular MRI scans and has got to know the department and staff very well over the years. The opening ceremony saw the cutting of the ribbon, followed by a food and drinks reception attended by key members of staff from the hospital as well as some of Luke’s family.

The unit was constructed at Lamboo Mobile Medical’s factory in the Netherlands for five months and houses a Siemens MRI scanner which was delivered and partly installed in preparation of delivery. The 1.5T Magnetom Aera offers a more comfortable experience as well as many technological advances. The detailed images it provides can enhance diagnostic confidence – giving you one of the highest quality MRI exams available today.

The delivery to the LRI was a complicated process, managed by Lamboo Mobile Medical, a global company specialising in the engineering and manufacturing of Mobile and Modular healthcare solutions and logistics company, Westdijk Transport. The transportation of the extra-large load, which involved a ferry trip from Holland to the UK, was four metres wide and twenty metres long, but successfully made it to the outside of the Physiotherapy department at the LRI where it has taken permanent residence.

Historically, MRI system replacements can cause months of disruption to hospitals and their patient waiting lists, however, by purchasing a relocatable unit, the LRI were able to continue a normal, undisrupted service to their patients. Without onsite disruption, Lamboo worked with Althea, Siemens Healthineers and the Trust’s Estates department to allow 90% of the installation to take place at Lamboo’s factory in the Netherlands.

The Estates team at the Trust were heavily involved with the installation process, ensuring the slab that the relocatable unit would rest on was able to support the unit. Special concrete flooring also had to be laid to ensure the unit was safe and level for scanning and could integrate with the hospital’s infrastructure.

Francesca Evans, Althea’s Chief Technologist commented, “We are really excited about this relocatable unit, the first on our portfolio. The collaborative working by all teams; Althea, Lamboo, Westdijk, Siemens Healthineers and UHL has worked really well and it’s great to see all our hard work paid off now that the Trust are scanning patients.”

Rajinder Sandhu, UHL’s MRI Superintendent Radiographer commented: “This project is a culmination of months of hard work by a team of experts collaborating from across different parts of Europe. It’s a very innovative approach to increase our capacity and many other trusts are looking at using as a model going forward.”

Matthew Archer, Head of Operations for Clinical Support and Imaging at Leicester’s Hospitals, adds: “Historically, this kind of project would have caused months of disruption to our Imaging department so we are all delighted it was up and running within weeks.”

Althea installs first of four new DR rooms in Leicester

Althea, in partnership with University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL), has installed the first of four new digital x-ray rooms at Glenfield Hospital’s Radiology department. The Samsung-manufactured GC85, distributed by MIS, is one of four rooms that will be installed at the hospital in the next year as part of their managed service contract.

The state-of-the-art Samsung GC85 room features two wireless DR detectors which lead their class with a DQE of around 80%. The room comes with fully automated movement as standard in all of its key elements including tube, table and erect bucky. With anatomical programming the system offers virtually ’hands off‘ Radiography capable of almost 1,000 different protocols.

Nick Clark, Radiology Site Manager of the Glenfield hospital commented; “With its innovative automation aimed at reducing RSI, its ease of use and novel features like S-Align and S-Share allows Samsung to be at the forefront of ground breaking technology. These features along with others show a real advance in plain film room technology.”

Francesca Evans, Althea’s Chief Technologist commented, “This is an exhilarating time to be installing new pioneering digital x-ray equipment. Any new advances in technology that can help with RSI and improve diagnostic quality to provide the best for our patients is a must! We are looking forward to working with MIS over the next year to install more of this excellent product to the Glenfield team.”

Pictured are: Tony Rogers, MIS Account Manager – Midlands; Nick Clarke, Superintendent – Glenfield; Amanda Douglas, Senior Radiographer; Lucy Lewis, Deputy Superintendent Radiographer; Phil Jones, MIS Account Manager – North; Francesca Evans, Althea – Chief Technologist.

New pharmacy robot at UHL

Althea is pleased to announce it has installed a state-of-the-art ARX UK Vmax robotic pharmacy at Leicester Royal Infirmary. The Vmax has been provided through the University of Leicester Hospitals NHS Trust’s 18-year managed service contract, which supports the Trusts’ clinical teams in Radiology, Cardiology and Pharmacy.

The new robotic pharmacy installation means that the Trust will benefit from technology enhancements including a user-friendly touchscreen and barcode system which will ensure instant access to stock levels, space availability and expiring stock information for the most accurate stock management. The pharmacy has the ability to collect eight packets at once – a substantial increase over the old robot. The self-cleaning equipment is also quieter and is 50% more space efficient at storing packets, opening up further storage space for the Trust.

Paul Couchman, Pharmacy Service Manager at Leicester’s Hospitals, commented, “The ability to update and refresh our automated dispensing system through the Althea contract has enabled us to install and utilise the latest technology in order to continue to meet the dispensing demands of the hospital. The solution delivered has made best use of available space within the department whilst giving increased performance and improved medicines storage. The re-location of the automated dispensing cabinets has also improved both the dispensing workflow and quality of the dispensary environment”.

New ultrasounds installed at UHL

Since December 2014, Althea has successfully installed 23 new ultrasound systems at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL).  These installations have been for a range of departments including Echocardiology, Antenatal, Vascular and General Medicine across the Trust’s three main sites – Leicester General Hospital, Royal Infirmary, and Glenfield Hospital.

Throughout the vendor-neutral selection process Althea has organised a number of demonstrations from across the supplier base.  The Trust was able to evaluate the range of equipment available and with the impartial advice of Althea’s modality experts selected the right equipment to optimise clinical outcomes and meet patient needs.  Through their managed service contract UHL has installed a mix of ultrasounds from across the supplier base including GE, Philips and Hitachi.

New mobile breast units improve services for Derbyshire women

Two new mobile breast units are to go out on the screening rounds in Derbyshire this autumn.

The brand new vans – one with a pink interior and one with blue – replace the ones which have been in operation for the last 15 years and are the first major piece of equipment replaced by the Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust through a managed equipment service provided by Althea. A new MRI scanner for Derby patients is expected in the New Year.

They carry state-of-the-art digital machines, which work more quickly and provide a higher-resolution image for analysis.

Superintendent Radiographer Jean Bonsall said: “The digital image will be produced straight away, which will make things easier for the radiographers, and better for the patient, as they won’t have to wait around. The technology means the radiographer can focus her attention on the patient, rather than the machine.”

The improved imaging will be particularly useful for younger patients, she added, as it will be able to detect smaller anomalies in scans.

The pink van was delivered this week. It will head out on the road next Wednesday, with the first stop in Swadlincote.

Its blue counterpart will be added to the round next month.

Each unit sees around 50 women a day – adding up to 250 women each week. Women aged between 50 and 70 are invited for screening every three years. If there are concerns over the scan results, they are called into the breast unit for further tests.

Women over the age of 70 can still be screened, but they have to request an appointment.

Pictured left to right: Jean Bonsall, Superintendent Radiographer; Dr Mark Bagnall, Consultant Radiologist; Lee Chlechowicz, Clinical Manager for Imaging; and Sue James, Chief Executive for Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Whittington’s managed service 10-year anniversary

Althea is pleased to announce that December 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of our long-term partnership with Whittington Health NHS Trust. Althea currently manages and maintains 66 Trust assets including 2 CT scanners, 1 MR scanner, 20 x-ray systems, 2 mammography units and 16 ultrasounds.

Over 10 years Althea has replaced all major items of diagnostic imaging at least once, including the installation of a new Philips Ingenia 1.5T Omega HP MRI Scanner, which weighed six tonnes and required heavy duty lifting and positioning via a third floor window.  The installation came 28 weeks after the Trust’s decision to procure the MRI as a variation to the existing managed service contract, and 14 weeks after planning permission was received.  This demonstrates the flexibility of our services and shows how we bring together the required expertise and project management skills to deliver complex projects within challenging timeframes.

Adrian Trinidade, MRI Superintendent at The Whittington Hospital, commented “The ability to adapt the service to our individual requirements throughout the length of a long-term contract is a great benefit and extremely reassuring, allowing the Trust to have increased flexibility with its equipment selection and, in turn, offer its patients access to the latest in diagnostic imaging equipment technologies.”

Whittington Health NHS Trust selected Althea as its partner because of our vendor-independence and flexibility to meet the changing demands of the health economy.  The manage service integrates seamlessly with the Trust’s existing PFI contract, provides full financing for all equipment, and reduces the Trust’s costs and financial risk.  The managed service takes responsibility for the strategic management of medical equipment, allowing the hospital management team to maintain their focus on patient care.

Whittington Health NHS Trust is located in North London and cares for a population of 500,000 with a priority of providing the right care at the right time for patients to ensure the community they serve live healthier lives.

 

ORIGINAL PRESS RELEASE

Adoption of modern clinical procedures at the Trust was restricted due to older technology and many pieces of equipment were getting close to their recommended replacement age. The hospital needed to update its imaging facilities but lacked the capital needed to buy new equipment.

“We initially dipped our toe into the leasing pond but found that upon renegotiation, we couldn’t afford to update the equipment due to other financial pressures. Without modern equipment, we were unable to offer patients low radiation dose techniques or alternatives to invasive procedures,” said Dr. David Grant, Clinical Director of Diagnostics and Therapies and Consultant Radiologist at The Whittington Health NHS Trust.

Initiating change

Remedial work designed to combat the situation started in 2000, with a PFI project to construct a new clinical block and main entrance. With infrastructure improvements underway, the Trust then focused its attention on equipping the new facilities. To provide a high standard of care and compete in an increasingly commercial NHS environment, advanced modern diagnostic equipment was required.

Whittington’s management team were looking for a solution which:

  • Provided access to a broad spectrum of technical expertise and advice
  • Would integrate with the existing PFI contract and manage the building interface
  • Provided technology refresh over the contract lifetime
  • Provided full financing for all equipment
  • Reduced both the Trust’s fixed costs and the long term financial risk

In October 2005 The Trust awarded a fifteen-year contract to Althea. This agreement ensured that the days of outdated technology would be a thing of the past. The hospital would benefit from and sustain the benefits of being one of Britain’s most technologically advanced imaging departments.

Clinical and financial benefits

Whittington chose Althea because it ensures that all elements of equipment provision and management are outsourced to a specialist third party. It also guarantees that state-of-the-art equipment will be maintained throughout the lifetime of the contract. This enables the hospital management team to focus solely on patient care and passes responsibility for the strategic management of equipment lifecycles to Althea.

Althea worked with the Trust from day one to evaluate the Radiography needs of the hospital, and develop a sustainable long-term equipment replacement programme. Plans for ongoing user training and a fully-managed maintenance service were also jointly developing. For a fixed monthly payment, Althea provides the Trust with a planned long-term investment strategy delivering the latest technology, coupled with the highest standards of service, maintenance and training.

“A secure investment plan, an integral part of a long-term contract, represented a realistic opportunity in the present financial environment to ensure that state-of-the-art equipment is continually updated and refreshed,” said Dr. Grant. “This approach ensures that access to modern and well-maintained equipment is kept constant and that nothing passes its agreed replacement age. This is a huge advantage in maintaining the standard of clinical care.”

Investing in modern equipment

The first part of the scheme saw the purchase of a number of mobile ultrasound and x-ray machines. These were installed ahead of the planned service commencement to assist the Trust with the replacement of the most urgently needed and older equipment. Althea then refurbished an old general emergency department x-ray room, replacing the aged equipment with a state of the art, fully digital, twin plate x-ray system and digital dental panoramic x-ray machine. This was installed in advance and provided valuable benefits in assisting the training of Radiology staff in the use of the new digital technology.

Althea took responsibility for all design and building interface matters reviewing all room drawings provided by the PFI contractor to ensure that the room design was suitable for the installation of the new equipment. Althea carried out all room fit out works associated with the fixed equipment.

“The previous MRI scanner was in its eleventh year, so it is great to have a new device. It will enable us to offer patients a greater range and quality of examinations such as MRCPs and vascular imaging obviating the need for invasive diagnostic studies,” stated Dr. Grant

He continued, “We are all delighted with the new department. Working in such a modern and spacious environment with state-of-the-art equipment enables us to offer the best possible service to our patients. We are now concentrating on developing new services and further improving both access times and the communication of results.

“Initial feedback from patients is also positive, they like the new and clean facility. Furthermore, the dedicated waiting areas inside the Imaging Department have improved patient dignity – no more waiting in corridors in gowns.”

The introduction of new equipment has also encouraged the adoption of innovative new processes. For example, the imaging department has introduced a unique patient waiting bleep system. Upon booking into the department each patient is given a bleeper to call them back when their examination slot is available. This reduces the number of people waiting in the department and helps to eliminate patient anxiety by giving them freedom to visit the shops and cafés inside the hospital building without the risk of missing their appointment.

Ongoing excellence

With all equipment now operational and providing patients with the quality of services they deserve, Althea has shifted its focus to providing service excellence for the long-term. On the ground, our specialist team ensure ongoing maintenance and training programmes are closely managed, minimising equipment downtime and promoting the use of new digital technologies to maximum effect.

“The structured approach to ongoing maintenance and fault handling is already improving the quality of the services we deliver. Room downtimes are markedly reduced” says Dr. David Grant. “Althea takes the equipment headache away making the operational part of the job much easier. Because of the contractual implications, Althea ensures that OEM engineer fault responses are much quicker.”

With this contract in place, The Whittington Hospital is able to concentrate on introducing further reforms to improving patient care, safe in the knowledge that the equipment is in the hands of an experienced and reliable partner.

Althea’s Design & Technology team present at Innovation Day

Francesca Evans, Asteral’s Chief Technologist and member of Asteral’s in-house Design & Technology division, gave a presentation at an Innovation Day held on 19th November 2015.

Fran’s presentation focused on the subject of moving from Computed Radiography (CR) to Digital Radiography (DR) and the improvements in DR equipment over time, using the managed service at Whittington Health NHS Trust as an example.  Through our partnership, Whittington Hospital was one of the first sites in the UK to install DR equipment throughout all diagnostic imaging modalities, and continues to benefit from ongoing investment in the latest DR technologies.

In addition, Fran’s presentation identified how DR retro-fit x-ray systems are becoming an increasingly popular, reliable, and cost-effective way of moving towards DR.

Althea’s vendor-independent approach gives NHS Trusts the flexibility to choose technology from across the supplier base whilst maintaining the commercial benefits of developing a single supplier relationship.  Through our managed services, our Design & Technology team will guide clinical teams through all available options and then assist users select the most appropriate technology.

The Innovation Day’s agenda also included talks from radiographers practising at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and Sherwood Forest Hospitals. Members of staff from Philips Healthcare also led product demonstrations.