Picture if you will, 6.30am on Monday morning. Your author is slipping into a new dress; a beautifully tailored, slim business sheath, of deep brown and charcoal hues. A most flattering frock, designed to give her gravitas, presence and a bit of oomph.
Up went the zip, but not far enough. Right arm over shoulder – nope, can’t quite reach. Under went the left arm to push but no, the gripper won’t budge. It is stuck fast, just under my shoulder blades. Beads of perspiration cascade down my brow. Then the expanse of zip below, splits open down my back. I am stuck inside a dress I cannot get either in or out of.
I’m in this stew because of a deadline: today is the day I present Peezy to BBC TV’s Dr Michael Mosley, at the Tenth Medical Futures‘ Innovation Awards exhibition and glittering dinner, hosted by Rory Bremner and Emma Samms. Rest assured gentle reader, I wriggled out of this unfortunate frock and into my presentation on time, to demonstrate our smart and nifty device that came about because of this very event ten years ago.
Andy set up the not-for-profit Medical Futures to help clinicians realise ideas that might otherwise lie fallow and deny the world some of the most life-changing inventions that the organisation has since helped bring to fruition. It was in 2001 that my brother, Dr Vincent Forte, GP, author and broadcasting doctor, saw a flyer promoting the very first Medical Futures Awards. He submitted his prototype concept mid-stream urine (MSU) collector for women, the Female Freedom Funnel. His invention was duly peer group reviewed, analysed and judged. In October 2001, it won the inaugural Innovation Award, and so began our journey.
Vincent and I forged a collaboration to bring the renamed Peezy to market, he leading the clinical development, and I the business. For four years, whilst maintaining our own full time occupations, we dipped in and out of our embryonic enterprise, looking for licensing partners or manufacturers. In 2006, we secured investment funding, embarked on nearly three years of R&D and launched our finished, tried, tested, CE-marked product in 2009.
In her column entitled “A sample of medicine at its simplest”, (23/24 April 2010, FT Weekend), Dr Sophie Harrison explains: “Urine is full of information,” and describes in simple, clear terms the value of an MSU, to conclude: “Laboratory testing can not only identify what kind of micro-organism is present (if any), it can also tell you which antibiotic will work: relatively low-tech, but perfectly targeted medicine.” As every clinician knows, the quality of the result relies on a quality sample. This is where Peezy comes into its own, because it quite literally streamlines urine collection by replacing the comedic and unhygienic process of peeing into a narrow bottle, with a simple, accurate and dignified system.
When adopted as the gold standard, Peezy could yield up to £100m cost savings for the NHS, because it reduces the national average contamination rate of up to 30%, to 11% or less; this means a much lower rate of costly retests and, it is predicted, less unnecessary antibiotic prescribing.
Our regular attendance at nursing, infection control and healthcare exhibitions has confirmed that nurses up and down the land would welcome Peezy as the standard MSU system for women. We know this, because we always book a place near the loo. When delegates head towards relief, we give them a Peezy to try “on the job”. They return to our stand and tell us all about it: 98% of them love it.
As of today, Peezy is being adopted by HCA Healthcare, the standard bearer for excellence in the private sector; where HCA lead, their competitors follow. We have sold to some enlightened GPs and hospitals, and to Europe. We have excited interest from the USA, and embarked on trials with the state-owned Laboratoire in France, where we are told of early results showing happier patients and reduced sample contamination.
Meantime, despite Peezy’s cost savings and meeting of its own QIPP guidelines, the NHS continues to procrastinate. As two recent examples show, decision-making is resisted at even the highest levels: four months after submitting a detailed NHS Supply Chain tender document we received this note:
“As you will be aware NHS Supply Chain is committed to delivering high quality products and value to the NHS. During the course of the quality evaluation of the samples for the Urology Products Tender it has become apparent that it will not be possible to evaluate these products in the way which was set out in the . As such, we have taken the decision to withdraw this tender at this stage with a view to issuing revised documents for these products later this year. NHS Supply Chain would like to thank you for your continued involvement and support in the tender process to date and looks forward to working with you in the future. Thanks.“
With the most critical (for us) NHS decision making process in limbo, we decided to go straight to the top and wrote personally to every female MP, every decision maker in the Department of Health and every NHS “opinion former” giving details on our dramatic cost savings and included, of course, a Peezy. One unidentified MP wrote to advise: “the matters raised are the responsibility of the Department of Health,” from where, coincidentally, the most enlightening response arrived:
“Thank you for your letters of 4th and 5th February to Anne Milton and Andrew Lansley about your healthcare product. I have been asked to reply. I have forwarded your correspondence and your product, the “Peezy” to Buying Solutions, which is the national procurement partner for .”
Astonishingly, the DoH appears to be unfamiliar with the clinical procurement processes for its own national healthcare system; amongst other commodities and services, procures paper clips, uniforms, telephones and loo roll. But no medical products. Fortunately the nice people there pointed us in the right direction: back, full circle, to the NHS Supply Chain.
While the Government and NHS flounder with indecision, Medical Futures identifies and nurtures innovators like us, people who make wonderful products that can improve healthcare, save money, build British manufacturing, develop export, create employment and in some cases, even save lives. They are inspired, they join the dots and get things done. It’s just a shame they are not in charge of the nation’s health.
Now, where’s that dress that needs to go back to the shop?
© Giovanna Forte
- Medical Futures Innovation Award 2001
- Mayor of Hackney’s Business Award Most Successful Business 2006
- Design Week Awards Best Industrial Design 2009
- Design Week Awards Best of Show (over runner-up the Apple MacBook Air) 2009
- NHS East of England Health and Social Care Technology Innovation Award 2009