Boosting staff morale during a pandemic is hard at the best of times, but Icon Group chief executive Mark Middleton says it’s even tougher when your staff are treating cancer in the midst of a pandemic.
“I emailed a whole team every single morning just to say good morning for 62 days straight…there was a whole range of activities we did just to keep the team united [during lockdowns],” the boss of Australia’s largest cancer care provider says.
In an era where everyone has spent the past two years focused on the COVID-19 virus, Icon has also worked hard to ensure its treatment centres are safe and welcoming spaces. Middleton says this is essential to getting people to show up for radiation and chemotherapy courses.
“There is no doubt that there has been fear in cancer patients. We have to provide an environment where people feel safe,” Middleton says.
It’s been a big 12 months for Icon, which has not only operated services throughout city-wide shutdowns, but has also been negotiating with new investor suitors.
In November European private equity firm EQT snapped up a majority equity stake in the business in a deal worth $2.4 billion.
Middleton believes EQT was attracted by Icon’s global focus, with the company already proving it can set up and run successful cancer centres right across the world. “EQT sees that as a real platform for growth,” he says.
“[But] healthcare is a very specialised investment — it’s not for everyone, that is the reality. Financial success in healthcare actually comes from having great doctors who provide great care and are clinical independent.”
That means not telling doctors how to treat patients, or you’re at risk of losing them. Retaining talent has been a key issue for private healthcare operators throughout the pandemic. Closed borders have impacted offshore recruitment, while the relentless pace of the pandemic has left existing staff worn out.
At an investor day earlier this month, private hospital giant Ramsay Health Care said it was tightly focused on the future of its workforce and ensuring access to nurses at a time where staff are not coming in from overseas.
For an operator like Icon, staff retention is key, particularly because many of its centres are in regional areas. “It’s challenging, there’s no doubt about that,” Middleton says.
“People are tired. We have had our healthcare workers in full PPE for a long time now, and it’s draining. We are doing our best to provide a workplace that is really, really enjoyable for people. That’s how you staff Warrnambool, that’s how you staff Mackay.”
Its treatment centre network spans Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China. With its new majority owner EQT based in Stockholm, Middleton says the company is also considering other markets in the northern hemisphere.
Icon is looking to boost that international reach at a time when the whole global healthcare system is evolving. Not only has coronavirus put systems under incredible pressure, it has also led to a fresh investor interest in the healthcare system and new technologies behind it.
As one of the leading causes of death globally, the need for cancer treatment is significant. Projections from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) suggest 150,782 Australians will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in 2021, which is 486.1 cases per 100,000 people.
It’s a capital-hungry sector: the global market for cancer drugs is expected to hit $US215 billion annually by 2030, according to market research firm Statista.
New processes for imaging, targeting and treating cancers are also emerging at a lightning speed, with new personalised treatments and products such as radio pharmaceuticals gaining approvals.
For providers such as Icon, bringing in new tech is important for growth. “I think we have in Australia a tremendous track record of regional cancer care being delivered in public-private partnerships,” Middleton says.
“I think partnerships are really important and many state governments have been proactive. But we need to do more to get new technologies approved faster, which means they are available [to patients].”
He acknowledges that Australia has a suitably robust system for analysing new medical technology, but that the public and private systems need to work more closely with governments to bring cutting-edge tools to market.
“It’s about the private sector, public sector, and of course working closely with government, both state and fed to seek approvals,” he says.
“The evolution of the technology is amazing… It would be great if we had a really streamlined process so we would be able to bring that technology in faster.”
Meanwhile, Icon will be looking abroad to try to capture more organic growth and consider new merger and acquisition opportunities as the world emerges from the pandemic.
Source: Thanks smh.com