Irish company Critical Healthcare has signed a deal worth €10 million over five years with the leading international private provider of emergency services in Europe. The announcement was made by Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee at a St. Patrick’s Day reception hosted by the Irish Embassy in Copenhagen at the weekend.

Critical Healthcare provides a comprehensive range of medical products and services to ambulance providers and the pre-hospital market across Ireland, the UK and Europe.

It has completed the deal with Falck, who has over 100 years of history within emergency, assistance, safety and healthcare services. Falck is the leading international private provider of emergency services and the only intercontinental ambulance provider.

Headquartered in Denmark, Falck has operations in 35 countries and its 2,500 ambulances respond to four million emergency calls every year. The company also provides many other pre-hospital services, including emergency helicopters and rapid response units with paramedics, nurses and doctors.

Rapid growth at Critical Healthcare

Founded 18 years ago by Seamus Reilly and Anne Cusack in Ireland’s midlands, where it is still headquartered, Critical Healthcare employs 22 full-time staff. That figure is set to at least double over the next five years as a result of the deal,  which centres on Critical Healthcare’s multi award-winning procurement platform Medlogistix, in addition to other projects.

Medlogistix has dramatically improved the supply chain and procurement landscape for the National Ambulance Service of Ireland, as well as multiple emergency service providers in the UK.

Critical Healthcare will now be rolling out Medlogistix for Falck across four countries – Denmark, the UK, Germany, and Spain. Critical Healthcare will become Falck’s single managed service provider for medical consumables and will be responsible for managing some of Falck’s key manufacturers and producers.

The deal is estimated to be worth approximately €2 million per year over a period of five years, with a total contract value of €10 million.

Dr. Anne Cusack, Managing Director and Co-founder, Critical Healthcare, said:

“We are absolutely thrilled with our collaboration with Falck and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with them. This is a massive commitment by them to entrust this business with us and we are looking forward to being able to repay that trust by delivering a world-class, quality service to Falck across Europe.

“The impact of this collaboration is an important milestone in the company’s progression and represents significant growth for us over the coming years. We have 22 directly employed staff in Westmeath, where our business is growing strongly. But with the new Falck deal, and other ongoing work, that number is set to increase further – by around 30 new hires over the next five years.”

Seamus Reilly, Operations Director and Co-founder, Critical Healthcare, said:

 “We have already established an office in Germany, opened in January 2019, and initiated our first employee there. We have recruited four further people specifically as a result of the Falck deal. We are currently building the platforms for Germany and Denmark and our aim is to have all four countries operational no later than April. We were able to compete for and win this European contract because we were able to demonstrate the savings our package could offer across all elements of the procurement process.”

Critical Healthcare also especially wanted to thank Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, for its help during the procurement process, as well as for its Business Process Innovation grant, which assisted with the development of the Medlogistix.

Helen McEntee T.D.,Ireland’s Minister of State for European Affairs, said:

“It is heartening for me to witness an Irish Small and Medium Enterprise such as Critical Healthcare achieve such fantastic growth through its commitment to innovation and customer service. The fact that Critical Healthcare is forging strong links in Denmark, the UK, Spain and Germany, while at the same time continuing to maintain its dominance in the Irish market and hiring significant numbers in the midlands is a credit to the management and I wish them further success into the future. It is a wonderfully positive story for Ireland and for the Midlands.”

Marina Donohoe, Director of Enterprise Ireland’s UK and Northern Europe Operations, said:

“Across the globe, Irish companies are achieving international sales at record levels and bringing the Irish Advantage to business partners. Internationally, Irish companies are driving innovation and leading across a wide range of sectors including the medtech sector, with Ireland being the second largest exporter of medtech products and services in Europe. Critical Healthcare, an Enterprise Ireland-supported client, is a great example of the success and innovation that is emerging from Ireland and the deal announced today is hugely significant for the company and their Danish partners Falck.”

Challenges in healthcare create opportunities for innovators.

How to drive change in an industry that is traditionally averse to change? How to fix a broken care and delivery model that does not manage people well in the continuum of care? How to cope with razor thins margins at a time when the expense of delivering care is outpacing reimbursement?

These are just some of the challenges identified at the North American Healthcare Forum, a major international event hosted by Enterprise Ireland, and attended by senior leaders from US and Canadian healthcare systems, as well as some of Ireland’s most successful and innovative healthcare solutions providers.

One of the biggest areas of opportunity for the latter was identified as the ongoing shift in focus from the acute setting to the social care setting, with a growing emphasis on the social determinants of health, such as lifestyles and behaviours.

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Budget is a major healthcare challenge

But working within constrained budgets was a recurring theme. For Arden Krystal, CEO of Southlake Regional Health Centre in Canada, where a socialised, single-payer care model exists, one of the biggest challenges is capital.

“We depend very heavily on foundations to fund our capital. Governments take a very limited role in that and it creates a lot of challenges for us in terms of keeping up with things like information technology and newer technologies. We’re always behind (the curve) just replacing things that are literally broken,” she said.

Hospitals in growing communities fare better than those whose communities are performing less well.

Michelle Conger is Chief Strategy Officer at OSF Healthcare in Illinois. Aside from Chicago, the region is not a growing market, she said. Much of its focus, as a result, is on the integration of social services agencies, through a digital platform. One current initiative involves a community of 22,000 people, whose local hospital has closed, leaving residents without access to acute care facilities.

The aim is to improve health outcomes by providing access to OSF hospitals using technology and making better use of community-based programmes.

“In the US, social service agencies and healthcare operate in silos. A lot of times we are all working with the same people but not able to improve their health outcomes because we don’t realise it. Just creating that kind of transparency has had a big effect,” said Conger.

Opportunities for innovation in healthcare

Another challenge is transitions of care, said Brian Donley, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic UK. “Whether it is transitions from hospital to home, from one hospital to another, or from the operating room up to the floor, we see that as a big cost opportunity. Transitions of care costs a lot of money,” he said, pointing out they also lead to concerns about quality and safety. “How we achieve transitions of care better represents an opportunity for innovation,” he said.

Advances in electronic medical records software is a complicated topic, said Michelle Conger. “It gave us access to the data we need – and we built a separate data warehouse that helped us – but I think work has to be done to really help providers work differently because I’m not sure the system has made it more efficient.”

The challenge of highly constrained funding over the past seven years was highlighted by Rob MacIsaac, CEO and President of Hamilton Health Sciences in Canada. “Our strategy is to constrain funding in healthcare and expand capacity in communities,” he said.

“What that has meant for many providers is that we are being challenged to transform the system without having the resources to do that transformation. Innovation is very challenging if you can’t invest in it.”

Exciting innovations

There are however great sparks of innovation happening, he said, including R&D work around remote monitoring, to try and help patients into their home more quickly after treatment and surgery.

“We’ve also done early work in stratification of patient populations, trying to gain insights so we can start to better predict people before they crash, in a way that helps to prevent that. We are starting to do work around understanding what the potential is for us as a learning health system, and the role metrics and analytics can play in that,” he said.

Southlake Regional Health Centre is in a growing region, and so is the recipient of more funding. This has enabled it to invest in its own innovation centre. It has successfully partnered with a number of tech companies and entrepreneurs to develop products and services, which it has gone on to procure.

The aim is to have innovators come in at an earlier stage, “rather than with a fully baked product that may or may not work in a healthcare environment,” said CEO Arden Krystal. “We hope to do our call outs sooner, saying, here’s a couple of big chunky problems we have – companies, come to us and tell us how you think you can work with us and co-design a product that can help us.”

As with many healthcare systems, particularly those with ageing populations, “a lot of our big problems are around the fact that we have way too many patients and not enough space, so we have to find a way to continue to reduce stays, to help people back into the community. So remote monitors are big, but also some process tools to help us communicate faster and move people through our system hospitals. It’s all those kind of non-sexy processes that we sometimes don’t do very well in healthcare. We’re open to all of those as well.”

Any innovation that enables medical professionals to work “at top of licence” will be welcomed, said David Longworth, interim CEO of Lahey Hospital and Medical Centre in Massachusetts.

Ensuring doctors and nurses are not bogged down in routine tasks or paperwork, for example, will ease problems of burn out.

“If I had a blank canvas in relation to solutions in healthcare I would look at the way patients move through the system and at who is delivering the care, having people operate at the top of their licence,” said Lahey’s Longworth.

“I would also invest in transitions of care, leveraging technologies and applications to help foster seamless transitions of care, care giver engagement and patient engagement. I think we have just scratched the surface in how we can apply technology to not just individual patients, but populations of patients.”

North American healthcare leaders look to Ireland to co-develop future healthcare solutions.

Enterprise Ireland hosted 15 leading and world-renowned healthcare providers from the USA and Canada at the inaugural North America Healthcare Forum this week in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, at which industry leaders met with over 100 Irish companies working across the healthcare solutions sector. The forum further positioned Ireland as a world-class source of innovative healthcare solutions.

At the forum, Kite Medical, Meditec Medical and RelateCare – three healthcare companies supported by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency – announced major deals with Northwell Health (New York) and Lahey Hospital Medical Center (Massachusetts), with a cumulative value of over $580,000.

North American executives representing influential healthcare groups including Cleveland Clinic, Northwell Health, Adventist Health System Florida, Partners Healthcare and Lahey Hospital & Medical Centre, shared their insights on the key issues and critical success factors in the region. Irish healthcare companies used one-to-one access to clinicians and key decision makers in major health networks to gather valuable insights on the products and services that will be required in the North American market in the future.

Enterprise Ireland has over 200 exporting client companies within its life sciences cluster, with combined exports of over €1.7 billion.

Speaking at the forum, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD said: “The North America Healthcare Forum further confirms Ireland’s status as a global leader in healthcare. Ongoing collaboration and engagement with some of the world’s foremost healthcare providers gives Irish companies the opportunity to contribute to the health of patient populations around the world. The Government, through Enterprise Ireland, will continue to grow this collaboration for the benefit of all parties.”

Northwell Health and Enterprise Ireland partnership

Keynote speaker at the event Michael Dowling, President and CEO of Northwell Health, described the strategic partnership with Enterprise Ireland that supports Irish healthcare companies to develop and commercialise new medical technologies, secure joint ventures, and provide platforms that integrate with US healthcare companies.

Northwell Health is one of the leading healthcare providers on the east coast of the US, comprising 21 hospitals, 61,000 employees and nearly 14,000 affiliated physicians, providing healthcare to over 4 million people.

Dowling said, “Through our partnership with Enterprise Ireland, we have been able to pursue relationships with innovative Irish companies such as Salaso, Technopath, and i360, and we’re now exploring a relationship with Kite Medical and Meditec Medical.”

What makes these collaborations especially fruitful is that we’ll be able to commercialise these medical technologies to enhance the capabilities of other American healthcare providers. Ireland is a world-class source of innovative healthcare solutions and this event is of extreme importance to both stakeholders. It provides a platform to vocalise the challenges within the North American healthcare system with a view to working with Irish healthcare companies to identify future solutions.”

Collaborations between cutting-edge North American providers and Irish healthcare companies

Pat Breen TD, Minister for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, who opened the conference, said:It is of huge significance that Enterprise Ireland has been able to secure the attendance of such a prestigious group of senior executives from North America. This is an endorsement not just of the work that Enterprise Ireland has done but also of the progressive measures the Irish Government has taken to support and encourage the life sciences sector. The partnerships already secured between cutting-edge healthcare providers and Irish healthcare solution companies have brought about significant mutual benefits and I would encourage all who have traveled here today to continue this process of relationship building.”

Deirdre Glenn, Director, Life sciences Sector, Enterprise Ireland said: “Through our expertise and overseas network, Enterprise Ireland is identifying opportunities for client companies in North America. Our focus is also to work with companies to drive their innovation and competitiveness and create companies of scale at an international level. Innovation is a key differentiator in achieving competitive advantage in North America. There are many great examples of Irish companies, such as those attending today who are competing and winning against global competition, through innovation and this fact is acknowledged in the caliber of the North American healthcare delegates attending the conference. Having world-class healthcare providers such as Northwell and the Lahey Hospital and Medical Centre enter into strategic partnerships with Irish companies is a great endorsement of what Ireland has to offer in healthcare provision and medical technology worldwide and we will continue to work to support our clients to further build on these relationships. Building on this, we have today announced that Enterprise Ireland has agreed on a strategic partnership with the Adventist Health System Florida.”

Join Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, for an exciting opportunity to connect with senior executives from leading North America healthcare groups and Ireland’s most innovative medical technology companies at the inaugural North America Healthcare Forum.

This two-day event connects Irish companies and senior executives in healthcare systems and hospitals throughout the United States & Canada, including:

  • Adventist Health, Florida
  • Hamilton Health Sciences, Ontario
  • Lahey Health, Massachusetts
  • Northwell Health, New York
  • OSF Healthcare, Illinois
  • Partners’ Health, Massachusetts
  • Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto
  • Southlake Regional Hospital, Ontario
Why attend?
  • Network with more than 30 C-Level Executives from North American hospital groups, collectively responsible for more than 30 million patients
  • Hear healthcare decision-makers discuss the major clinical, operational and regulatory challenges affecting hospitals in the United States and Canada, and the opportunities they are creating for innovation and technology
  • Learn from subject matter experts in areas including healthcare investment, reimbursement and route-to-market strategy.

World-leading medtech companies, such as Medtronic and Freedom Innovation, are turning to Louth-based Bellurgan Precision for the manufacture of intricate high-performing components for their products.

Last November, the company was recognised by Medtronic with one of just 12 global Supplier Excellence Awards, presented at a special ceremony in Minneapolis. It has achieved either number one supplier or gold partner status with all of its other customers in the sector.

CEO, Stephen Hogg attributes this success to what he describes as a 40-year journey for the company. “Over the past 40 years, we have developed deep engineering knowledge,” he says. “We first got into capital goods that fit around the body about 20 years ago. These are components for ventilators, blood analysers, testing devices, and so on. We make critical components for devices that are vital for sustaining life.”

The next stage in the journey came about four years ago. “We started talking to US prosthetics manufacturer Freedom Innovation, a subsidiary of Ottobock, the world’s largest prosthetics company. This brought us into the area of components that attach to the body. We started supplying parts for an ankle joint and have gone from there to two knees and more recently a second ankle product.”

Far more than a parts supplier

The relationship with Freedom Innovation goes far beyond that of simply being a parts supplier. “Most of our work with that company is of an R&D nature, where we work with them on the design and development of the parts,” Hogg points out. “We manufacture microprocessor-controlled artificial body parts for them and that company has said we are their number one supplier.”

These parts are also highly complex. “I always thought prosthetics were about disability or traumatic injury, but they are actually more to do with lifestyle issues such as obesity and diabetes. People lose limbs for a variety of reasons, and modern prosthetics are high-performance additions to the body that allow you to resume normal life. There are specific prosthetics to suit athletes, active people, and older persons who are just looking for stability.”

The most recent step on the journey has seen Bellurgan move into the manufacture of parts that go into the body. These include titanium spinal screws which are pantone reference coloured to allow surgeons to easily select for size. “One customer in America has told us that our screws are the best quality and show the highest performance in tests.”

That journey has been mirrored by the company’s progress as a business. “In the early days we focused on Lean to take costs out,” Hogg explains. “But that only takes you so far. After that, we began to make careful selections around the equipment to make the parts our customers required. That was accompanied by investment in constant upskilling of the team here. We have a passion to reduce costs for customers at the same time as their products become more and more complex. That has allowed us to hold our margins and reinvest in the business. In particular, it has enabled constant reinvestment in new equipment and skills.”

That capability is key to the company’s success. “We work with our customers on R&D. We evaluate their needs and work together on the drawings as the product goes through various iterations. Quite often we make parts that our customers thought couldn’t be made. You have to be open to innovation and new ideas. That comes from experience and know-how. We don’t simply supply parts off the shelf. We build deep relationships with our medtech customers. It can take 18 months to three years to build up to volume production, but that’s a worthwhile process. Our customers appreciate the fact that we are prepared to go the extra mile for them.”

The healthcare industry in Benelux is growing fast.

Its economic share in the gross domestic product (GDP) of the main regions is now 10% in Belgium, 11.1% in the Netherlands and 11% in Luxembourg. In the Netherlands specifically, the healthcare industry’s share within GDP is the second largest in the world. Only the US has a bigger share, at almost 18%.

Growth within the healthcare sector is being driven by both private and public investment. According to the Belgian General Society for the Pharmaceutical Industry, total investment in R&D in Belgium amounts to 2.5 billion euros. The number of start-ups within the healthcare sector is also growing rapidly. The value of funding secured by Medtech start-ups in the Netherlands and Belgium is further evidence of the trend. These young companies are diverse, ranging from consumer products to industry-driven start-ups. Some examples are G-Therapeutics (26 million euros, implants), OncoDNA (7.7 million euros precision medication) and BlueBee (10 million euros, DNA analytics).

Ireland is experiencing similarly impressive growth in the healthcare industry, particularly within Medtech. For many years, Irish companies have been showing themselves to be innovators in the field of medical equipment. Ireland is now one of the largest exporters of Medtech products in Europe. The industry provides 27,000 jobs and contributes 8.5 billion euros in export value in Ireland. Of this 8.5 billion euros in 2014 and 2015, a total of 960 million euros was invested in R&D, allowing Ireland to develop an intelligent infrastructure in research facilities. Multinationals have been key to these Medtech developments.

Despite this huge growth, The Boston Consulting Group expects disruption to continue, driven by pricing, regulation and market dynamics. These trends will force Medtech companies to adopt a new approach to R&D and innovation. Partnerships and close collaboration between companies will be central to sustaining innovation and creating new opportunities for start-ups. Innovation processes must adapt to these quickly changing conditions.

Within this context, network organisations that stimulate collaboration between parties will thrive. Focus is shifting from a central to a decentralised approach, nationally and internationally. For companies in Ireland and Benelux, that makes it wise to enter into international partnerships and work together on new innovation processes.

Innovation models in the Medtech sector

The combination of Ireland’s leading role in Medtech R&D and Benelux’s strengths in healthcare has the potential to support partnerships that focus on innovation. Increasing public and private investment in Ireland and Benelux can also help both to achieve strategic advantage over international competition.

A successful example of that process is Irish company Neuravi. In 2015, Neuravi received 15 million euros in funding from the Dutch investment company Life Science Partners. At the same time, Neuravi became the exclusive distributor of the product Embotrap® in the Netherlands. Neuravi focuses on clinical solutions for patients who have suffered a heart attack. In addition to the medical devices they develop, Neuravi also focuses on clinical research to support the treatment of heart attacks.

In the high-tech medical sector, many innovations originate with manufacturers. Due to a quickly changing market and organisational structures, companies are increasingly switching from merger and acquisitions to a partnership model. One example of this trend is Fleming Medical. Through a partnership with TNO, Fleming has introduced a new type of plaster that allows medical professionals to monitor the progress of wound healing. The collaboration is an example of high-tech product development in which research centres help drive innovation.

Advantage in Ireland and Benelux

We see numerous opportunities for potential partnerships between companies in Benelux and Ireland. These partnerships are welcome as they can help deliver a strategic advantage for the academic and business worlds in both markets. Funding is flowing from both the government and the private sector to sharpen this focus on innovation.

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