Roma Medical, among other products, supplies the NHS with a range of portering chairs, commodes and wheelchairs meaning it is on the NHS supply chain framework. Having that relationship with category managers put it in a perfect position to be of service when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
Around a month ago, when the Covid-19 contingency planning started, Roma was approached by NHS Supply Chain with an enquiry 500 drip stands which quickly changed and scaled up to 10,000, a demand described by those at Roma as “unprecedented.”
In conversation with the company’s national sales manager for health, Lee LeBrocq made it clear that from the initial call with the NHS, it was obvious that a considerable scale-up would be required.
This led LeBrocq to contact Roma’s director of design and development to ask if it was feasible as it would need a new design that must be compliant, easy to transport and be fit for purpose. Within 24 hours we had a design that worked, LeBrocq explained.
He said: “One of our biggest challenges was sourcing materials as most suppliers of raw materials and components were closing due to the lockdown. We had to work with limited suppliers in order to source materials and components along with our own inventory. NHS Supply Chain approved our design quickly and provided us with a commitment of 10,000 units.
“We then needed to go through the compliance process of testing, CE marking, GTIN registration along with user manual/technical file creation. This is a process that would normally take weeks to undertake and we completed the whole process within 48 hours.”
LeBrocq went on to detail just how much of an effort it took for the business to be able to get this into action in just a matter of hours.
He continued: “It took a huge effort. That quantity of product would represent several years’ worth of volume under normal circumstances so to equip to this scale is unheard of.
“We’re experienced with the NHS and it can typically take a year or more to manage equipment replacement projects. We’ve seen nothing of this scale ever before both with volume and urgency.
While continuing to support vulnerable customers, as part of the coronavirus effort nationwide, Roma took the decision to focus on 2 lines that are solely supporting the NHS Covid-19 requirements.
Line 1 is for drip stands and Line 2 is for the Commode/Sanichair range which is also seeing a surge in demand.
The other side of Roma’s business, the one it is commonly known for among AMP readers is electric scooters and powered wheelchairs. This, understandably, has seen a drop in sales due to the lockdown.
“We were actually at a stage where we were considering to furlough employees when we received this commitment from the NHS Supply Chain. However, as it turns out, we are running 12-hour shifts, dedicated to those two lines, completely supporting the NHS,” Le Brocq explained.
Adding: “From the initial phone call, to supplying the first 500 Drip Stands was a huge turnaround. It has been a considerable challenge for the team who have pulled out all the stops. It’s an incredible achievement”
The volume produced has been split with 2,750 going to Nightingale ExCeL which is now complete. The balance is being distributed centrally by NHS Supply Chain, equipping additional field hospitals.
Roma confirmed that it was also dealing directly with the NHS procurement team in Birmingham who are involved in preparing the NEC Nightingale project which also urgently required 200 commodes.
LeBrocq outlines how this supply was a possibility as a result of creating the second dedicated manufacturing line which is also supplying other hospitals coming to us through the direct channel.
Responding to an AMP question on longevity and how the NHS has communicated, he said: “We’re in daily contact with all NHS Trusts and health boards in the UK and independently the procurement teams are giving us inquiries for large quantities of product and we are managing that by explaining what we are running at the moment and what the lead times are but what we’re finding is they can’t get product anywhere else.
“The NHS is not alone with supply difficulties as we are finding we are receiving large export orders and enquiries for the same products. Obviously everyone wants it as soon as possible. That’s the nature of this situation but the reality is lockdown has slowed down the spread of the virus enough so that they can cope with it.”
LeBrocq went on: “This means we’re able to manage their expectations. This would not be possible with product sourced in the Far East which takes a minimum of 12 weeks to arrive in the UK.”
He then commented on just the firm is looking forward to seeing other lines of business get busier, confirming the operation is in a position to supply those traditional dealer products as they are generally stock items.
The team at Roma Medical has done a great job in putting the demand into production in such a short period of time and all are glad to be in a position to help during the country’s time of need.
The firm’s national sales manager expanded, saying: “We are happy with that and it makes us all proud as a Welsh company to be supporting our NHS. We could have been in the position of temporary closure but now we are busier than ever in our production department.
“It’s keeping our work force in employment, keeps local sub-contractors open and busy which can only be good for the local economy and we’re at the heart of helping the NHS conquer this dreadful disease.
“It is a great feeling for the team as well. None of us would want to be at home. It makes the entire workforce proud and gives a feeling that everyone is playing a small part and making a difference in the battle against Covid 19.”
With regards to how the logistics of working have been managed due to the current Government guidelines, Roma were in a better position than most given the nature of the work it does.
Working with acute hospitals to carry out equipment condition audits and product evaluations means it already had PPE provisions in place.
Its field based team are not currently being sent out because it is not appropriate for them to be visiting hospitals, meaning all sales activity is being handled remotely as well as the NHS coming to Roma.
Social distancing inside the factory has also been observed and due to the layout and size of the production area, the Roma team say it was easy to follow and stick to, given the current circumstances everyone is having to deal with across the country.
On the difficulty of the size of the scale up and the numbers involved, LeBrocq discussed: “NHS Supply Chain were originally talking to us theoretically, asking us whether it was possible. We were coming back tentatively saying yes, but we needed to get that commitment to enable us to coordinate our supply chain.
“That’s because the biggest challenge for us wasn’t necessarily the manufacturing, but it was actually securing enough components and raw materials, specifically steel. We were talking to our steel suppliers and we were being told that some steel mills had already shut down their production lines.”
He went on to outline how the supply chain has been an obstacle for the business to overcome in order to get the products produced and supplied to the NHS in a quick and effective manner.
LeBrocq continued: “It has been tricky and a challenging time for our sourcing team. We had to acquire over 65 tonnes of steel including 30km of steel tubing. A lot of these companies are supplying the automotive sector which has seen a sharp decline in production. It’s a testament to our sourcing team that they have negotiated continual supply and proves that British Manufacturing is still relevant.
“Another challenge we had was sourcing suitable castors. This proved to be impossible due to the quantities and the fact that they are normally manufactured in China. This forced us to simplify our design to use a 50mm wheel which we had manufactured for us by the Priory Castor Company in the West Midlands.”
Roma, like other businesses, has also received regular and daily emails coming in from hospitals that are desperate for equipment while fighting against the virus.
In speaking to those working throughout this period, AMP has seen a real industry-wide effort so far, one that is replicated across other markets too.
Lebrocq and Roma Medical agreed: “Absolutely, with Brexit still on the horizon we have proved that British manufacturing has a viable future.”
Concluding: “We feel that this highlights the need to support the British Manufacturing Sector as the current model has shown its weaknesses by being too reliant on imported goods. We feel privileged to be part of this industry wide effort.”