Post date: 
Thursday, 10 November 2016
Anil Pitalia SpaMedica

SpaMedica is an independent sector provider of NHS ophthalmic services, performing a significant proportion of all NHS cataract surgery in Yorkshire and the North West of England.

Hannah Adams spoke to the CEO and founder, Anil Pitalia, to find out how SpaMedica is able to operate on NHS patients within four weeks and where the inspiration came from to start the business.
How did you set the business up?
I started the company back in 2008 as a small private clinic. I’m a Consultant Ophthalmologist so initially I did all the clinical work myself and I had one employee. I wanted to remain committed to working in the NHS so I applied for a NHS contract. At that time, there was a push by the Department of Health for smaller Free Choice Networks providers to become approved for treating NHS patients. I’m glad to say that despite the high entry barriers we were successful in our application. 
Starting SpaMedica was a very steep learning curve and it was hard in the beginning, but we started to grow, more and more people trusted our brand and the referrals grew from there. Now, we employ 150 staff and perform tens of thousands of procedures for NHS patients every year. 
What are the benefits for patients that choose to use SpaMedica?
We treat patients who are referred to SpaMedica from optometrists and GPs from start to finish – we carry out the initial assessment, the treatment and any follow-up contact required. We operate specialist eye hospitals that are focussed on being centres of excellence for ophthalmic procedures.
The benefits for referrers or patients selecting us for their treatment are:
  1. Outstanding clinical results. Our visual outcomes are excellent and our complication rates very low. This is because we have robust pathways in place to ensure consistent delivery of care and our patients always receive their surgical care from a consultant with specialist experience in cataract surgery.
  2. Quality of service. Our staff look after patients like they are family members, that's the basis of our culture of care at SpaMedica. 
  3. Consistently short waiting times. Our patients are generally assessed within two weeks of being referred to us and receive treatment within a further two weeks after the assessment. Often these times can be shorter. 
  4. Where possible, we aim for patients to have their post-operative follow-up care at their local optometrist who they've probably known for years and are just around the corner from where they live. The key to doing this successfully has been the excellent support infrastructure we have in place for optometrists and patients who can ensure they can access high-quality specialist knowledge and advice 24 hours a day. 
  5. High levels of customer service and patient satisfaction. Care is delivered by staff experienced and knowledgeable in the field of ophthalmology.
  6. Free transport for patients that have difficulty accessing our centres. We’ve been innovative in order to be competitive and free pick ups and drop offs is one way we’ve improved our patients' experience. 
  7. Written communication back to optometrists and GPs for every clinical interaction with patients.

What is SpaMedica's relationship with the NHS?


SpaMedica only performs NHS clinical services. We are commissioned in the same way a typical NHS hospital would be. Whether a patient is treated at SpaMedica or at a local NHS trust, the cost of the treatment is exactly the same. We provide clinical services to approximately 50 CCGs in the North West and in Yorkshire.

Does the patient have any costs to cover themselves?
Never. The NHS is free at the point of use and the patient has no costs to cover. We provide a free transport service for patients within a 10-30 mile radius of each of our five hospitals (Birkenhead, Liverpool, Manchester, Newton-le-Willows and Wakefield) and this is greatly valued by patients and their families. We also provide free parking and free tea, coffee and biscuits.
Once patients have been treated for their cataract, do they need to be seen again for further consultations?
This depends on the particular situation, but typically the next appointment for the patient after their surgery is a post-operative assessment which can either be with us at our clinic or with their local opticians practice. 
If it’s done at the patient’s local opticians, the optometrist must be accredited by us to undertake a post-operative assessment. We run an accreditation course at no cost to the optometrist and we have accredited over 600 optometrists to date.
In a tiny proportion of cases, under one per cent, we can't treat the patient ourselves and they need to go to a general hospital. This might include cases where patients have a latex allergy or a condition that requires a general anaesthetic. In such cases, we refer patients to hospitals that perform general anaesthetics and have ITU departments.  Over 99 per cent of our surgery is done without needles and we use only eye drop administered local anaesthesia. 
It’s important to point out that we operate on the full case mix of surgical complexity; cases such as pseudoexfoliation, previous penetrating trauma, stuck down pupils, white cataracts,  glaucoma cases, high myopes, high hyperopes and corneal dystrophies etc. We do also provide YAG capsulotomy and wet AMD treatment services.
SpaMedica has been growing over the last 12 months. Do you see more providers like yourselves offering NHS eye patient's operable solutions?

The independent sector is expanding but I'm not aware of other providers who offer the same service as us, nonetheless, we have plans to expand across the country so I hope we can help more patients very soon. We have focused heavily on the quality of our offering that meets everyone's needs including for the patients, referrers and commissioners. It's hard work but very satisfying to see the impact we are having on improving patients' quality of life. 

If a patient in the South or East of England wanted to have their cataract operated on, would they be eligible for treatment at SpaMedica? 
Yes, we can treat any patient in England. We have had some patients from as far as Cornwall hear about us from friends or relatives and have asked to be treated with us. They do have to cover their own travel costs but for many people, that will be better than being on an NHS waiting list for several months or alternatively, going privately and paying thousands of pounds.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love reading patient feedback. It makes me happy to hear how we've done. More than 99 per cent of the time patients are very pleased, so much so they write to tell us which is just great. It makes everything we do seem worthwhile. 
What’s special about being the CEO of SpaMedica?
We now have a large team of experienced consultants working here alongside invaluable nurses, healthcare assistants, administrators, data analysts, managers and other support staff who make it all happen. It may seem quite obvious but to maintain our high-quality services, we need the best staff who are appropriately trained and who can buy into our culture.
We have a very specific mentality here. As some companies grow, cultures can change, but that's not us. You’ll see our senior ophthalmologists holding patients hands, helping them into chairs and mopping up coffee spills.  Everybody chips in.

Whilst I am Chief Exec, I am also a clinician, which I think is somewhat unusual. I’d like to think that my employees and patients have valued my style of leadership over the years. It’s an incredible privilege to be able to do my job and whilst I have always worked hard, I can’t help but feel like the luckiest man alive to be doing this.

Please note: RNIB does not endorse any particular provider of cataract treatments.

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