Have a care

Posted on 8 Mar 2011 by The Manufacturer

When health and wellbeing are in the balance issues of quality and service excellence become more than just business jargon. Pelican Healthcare tells TM how it is rising to the challenge of providing specialised products and sensitive service delivery to their vulnerable customer base.

Established in 1989, Pelican Healthcare has been functioning as part of the Eakin healthcare group since 2007. A niche company servicing a sensitive customer base, Pelican has recently experienced rapid growth and an exciting period of investment. Colin Kent, operations manager at Pelican, took the time to share the details with TM and give some insight into the distinct but surprisingly competitive sector he works in.

Describing the dynamic period of investment Pelican has experienced since its acquisition by Eakin, Kent recalls: “Since November 2009 we have been undertaking a massive refurbishment of our site. The motives for the refurbishment were twofold. Partly it was prompted because we were experiencing a lot of growth. We were only utilising about 40 per cent of the space, with tenants in the other 60 per cent and we were outgrowing our share rapidly. We gave notice to our tenants and they were re-housed in the local area.” The second need for refurbishment came from a desire to automate. We have brought in a number of new machines and initiatives to support this and the refurbishment of the ground floor is now almost complete. The investment so far has cost approximately £5m.” Much of that investment (£1.7m) has been spent on new automation machinery including one machine which produces two ostomy bags every five seconds. Kent says: “We are looking to purchase another of these machines in the next two to three months. All the investment activity reflects a complete commitment from the board to turning profit around and putting it back into the company – since purchasing the company the board have adopted a policy of continuous investment in the Company. All profits have come back to the business.” Furthermore, Kent explains that the money is not only being targeted at supporting existing capabilities.

A culture of innovation and an open mind to new markets characterises company strategy with the company aiming to bring a new product to market every six months and, through competitive expansion, to open up access into new national and international market segments. The most recent example of this latter intent has been the acquisition of Oxfordshire based healthcare company Clinical Innovation Europe which will relocate to the Welsh Pelican site. The buyout will double the size of Pelican’s feminine healthcare division and has added around £5m to the annual turnover taking it from approximately £21m to £26m overnight. Looking forward Kent says the plan is to achieve a turnover of £45m within the next five years.

Pelican is separated in two major divisions: namely ostomy products and feminine healthcare. A third division called home delivery is responsible for the distribution of ostomy products direct to end customers – or as they are rather more sensitively referred to by Pelican, patients.

The ostomy products manufactured by Pelican include a variety of ostomy pouches for the sanitary collection and drainage of bodily wastes following bowel surgery.

As Kent explains supplying into this market necessitates the highest level of delicacy and commitment to quality: “We are supplying to patients who have just undergone traumatic and invasive surgery and both branches of the business, ostomy and feminine care, are frequently supplying to people suffering from cancers of a very private nature. We are continuously improving our products and services, partly to improve our cost base, but mostly because we are driven by quality. The patients we supply to have gone through enough. We have to make sure that our products and services help to give them comfort and that patients have peace of mind that the product will do what it is meant to.” In pursuit of perfect quality standards Pelican carries out rigorous testing on all its products with some lines being tested as regularly as every 15 minutes on criteria like drainage, adherence to the body and leakage.

Goods inward are also carefully audited to ensure that all materials and components taken into the plant are up to scratch and at point of use the finest expertise for the application and use of products is ensured by employing qualified stoma care nurses to deliver products.

Having this level of care and dedication to excellence in operations is essential if Pelican is to protect its competitive position as well as its moral obligation to patients, for despite operating in a niche area Kent says that the supply market for ostomy and feminine healthcare products is surprisingly crowded: “We are the market leaders in feminine care products for the UK ,with by far the largest market share and are a growing player in the Ostomy market but you would be surprised how many companies there are competing in these areas in the UK.” To keep ahead of this competition and maintain the company’s leading position Kent says targeted innovation is the key.

Pelican Healthcare – At a glance

Sites Cardiff

Key productsOstomy pouches and vaginal speculums

Employees 170 (Cardiff)

Major customer(s) NHS, T.G. Eakin

Annual turnover £25m

Points of interest

• Pelican produces around 5.5 million ostomy pouches a year and supplies 80% of the speculums for the NHS Obstetrics and Gynaecological feminine healthcare contracts.

• A proportion of all profits from the sale of Pelican’s vaginal speculums is donated to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust; a charity for the support of women suffering from cervical cancer and cervical abnormalities.

• Pelican Healthcare is delighted to announce that they were nominated as finalists in the Continence and Promotion of Care category of the Nursing Times Product Awards 2010.

As an example Kent pointed to the release, just a couple of months ago, of a paediatric convex ostomy pouch.

This product is the only one of its type on the market and its design specifically with children in mind. The material is softer than that used in most conventional ostomy pouches and is hypo-allergenic.

In the feminine healthcare division, which predominantly produces vaginal speculums for use in smear tests and coil fittings, there has also been innovation. The five core products, which vary in size, have recently been joined by a new lighted speculum for the facilitation of delicate medical procedures. Similar products have been launched by competitors in the past but hefty battery packs which cannot be disposed of in medical waste meant such devices were inconvenient for surgeries and clinics.

Pelican’s innovation uses LED technology powered with normal household batteries in a detachable charger, so the speculum is easy to use and dispose of. Kent says: “It is early days yet but demand for this very new product, only launched three or four months ago, is steadily increasing. It is much more mobile than anything similar being offered on the market.” Constant improvement and innovation are intrinsic to the everyday culture at Pelican but Kent explains that this organisational attribute is thanks to the nature of the company’s work and people rather than any formal improvement programme: “Our continuous improvement is not structured around kaizen or poke yoke and the like, although I am a former NVQ assessor and trainer for Business Improvement Techniques so there is knowledge of all those techniques. We just take an approach whereby we are continually looking at our processes. We have just introduced a new test lab and we develop products on site.” All meaning that product concept, design and production are aligned, with fluid feedback and development of products and processes.

A key influence and consideration that needs to be taken into account in all of the above is that nearly all Pelican’s feminine healthcare products must be medically sterile when they arrive with customers and patients.

Although sterilisation takes place offsite and is carried out by a third party, its necessity impacts on the materials that can be used for products and, perhaps most importantly, impacts on the lead time for delivery of products to customers. “There is a turnaround in sterilisation of about two weeks and we promise all our customers that if they order before 3pm one day they will receive their order the next day.” This necessitates the holding of varying levels of stock for certain products; stock which is balanced against flow in production and demand for high runners.

In addition to lead time considerations, a newer driver for process innovation at Pelican is environmental regulation and the increasing cost of sending waste to landfill. To counter this, a series of intensive innovation programmes have been carried out and the company has sought strategic partnerships in order to reduce waste and, where possible, turn waste into new revenue.

Seventy per cent of waste from the Cardiff site is now compacted for use in a waste-to-energy initiative, the amount of defects, already low, is being chiselled down and new materials which will degrade naturally without jeopardising the resilience of products during use are also being looked into. While having a care for maintaining the highest standards of service today there can be no doubt that Pelican is making ready to meet an expanding bill of requirements in the future.