Defence Business: Aspen Medical targets defence sector | ADM Mar 07

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By Gregor Ferguson

A medical service company established by a former Army aerospace engineer has broken new ground in delivering the full range of medical care to support ADF and AFP operations overseas.

An Australian SME which started operations just under four years ago has succeeded in one of the most demanding markets in the world.

Canberra-based Aspen Medical specialises in providing a turnkey medical service for both government health departments, military and para-military deployments, and remote operations such as the mining and oil industry.

The company was formed in 2003 by Dr Andrew Walker, a physician, and Glenn Keys, a former Army helicopter flight test engineer and logistician; its first job was to provide a team of surgical specialists to tackle the UK National Health Service's massive waiting list for orthopaedic surgery in the north of England.

Almost simultaneously the company bid for and won the contract to provide medical and dental services for the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Since then it has provided contract primary, secondary and emergency health care for Australian and New Zealand personnel in East Timor, for the Department of Defence at Puckapunyal, for the Australian Customs Service in Queensland, and it has been shortlisted to provide the full primary health services for British Forces Germany (BFG).

However, the company also generates revenue from it's non-defence work: it has ongoing contracts with Queensland Health, to operate the Caboolture Hospital Emergency Department; it has a contract in place for remote area dental service; and in the UK it has carried out 12,000 major and minor procedures, including hip and knee replacements, ophthalmology and urology procedures, and some 5,000 outpatient appointments in the north of England and Northern Ireland.

According to Glenn Keys, Aspen Medical makes about one third of its income from defence work, in 2006 this amounted to $15.6 million.

It employs over 200 medical and dental professionals as well as finance, HR and project management personnel in Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Jakarta, Singapore and Europe.

And the company also has a growing database of more than 2,500 health care professionals covering every specialisation.

This means it can respond quickly to humanitarian and security contingencies: when the need arose to deploy a medical team to East Timor Aspen was contacted at 7.00pm on a Thursday evening.

Within 24 hours the company had filled every medical and nursing position except for the pharmacist and radiographer; by the following Friday the team was complete and within three and a half weeks it had installed and erected a temporary medical facility in East Timor and deployed its team.

That first East Timor contract, in May 2006, was for the Australian Federal Police. In July it was extended to cover the ADF as well.

In both East Timor and Solomon islands Aspen Medical has been working under a sub-contract from Patrick Defence Logistics; at Puckapunyal it contracts directly with Defence.

The company distinguishes between operational healthcare, a complete service in a remote or underdeveloped area, and project-based healthcare which provides a range of services targeted on a particular issue, such as clearing the NHS orthopaedic surgery waiting list.

At Puckapunyal Aspen Medical provides the Area Health Service for defence employees, including providing emergency cover for the various weapons ranges in use there; the company has 250 medical specialists on sub-contract to bolster the baseline medical capability, if required.

It managed to meet a four and a half week deadline to set up the service; the RAMSI deployment, by contrast, had an eight-week lead time.

The company has made a significant investment in its ability to deliver operational healthcare quickly: two years ago it spent $1.6 million importing a mobile surgical facility built into a full-length semi-trailer.

This contains a fully equipped surgical suite and nurses station and requires only electrical power on-site to become operational.

The facility is currently in Solomon Islands where Aspen is responsible for providing complete healthcare including surgery, dental, pharmaceutical, pathology, radiology, environment health and aero-medical evacuation.

This was the first time ADF had outsourced healthcare in an operational environment overseas; the experience was a positive one, resulting in the subsequent contract in East Timor.

And Aspen Medical created another Australian first in early-2006 when it took over the operation of the Caboolture Hospital's Emergency Department on behalf of Queensland Health.

The initial 12 month contract was renewed earlier this year.

In three years the company has grown rapidly.

It expects to report turnover of more than $40 million for 2006, Keys told ADM, twice that of 2005.

The risk that Keys and Walker took in setting up the company, and their rapid success, was acknowledged late last year when they won the Ernst & Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Services Category.

Copyright - Australian Defence Magazine, March 2007

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