Bury St Edmunds: Workplace health firm RehabWorks aims to assist financial fitness

Andy Holdcroft, chief executive of Rehab Work.

Andy Holdcroft, chief executive of Rehab Work. - Credit: Archant

RehabWorks in Bury St Edmunds is encouraging companies to look at occupational health in a different way. It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off, and chief executive Andy Holdcroft is hoping it will increase the company’s annual turnover from £3million in 2010 to a figure approaching £10m, as SARAH CHAMBERS found out.

From left, Carloine Farren-Hines, Jenny Mason, Chris Humphries, Andy Holdcroft, Greg Kane, Krishna

From left, Carloine Farren-Hines, Jenny Mason, Chris Humphries, Andy Holdcroft, Greg Kane, Krishna Naidu and Emma Pope at Rehab Works in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Archant

The first thing Andy Holdcroft did on taking over the reins at Bury St Edmunds-based workplace health firm RehabWorks was to get his staff to stop chasing volume.

“We were chasing business whereas I said we have got to be very selective in who we work with,” he explains. “You should not be chasing volume. You should be chasing the right work.”

What he was looking for was the kind of customers who shared the firm’s ethos – firms they could work with and help to save money through an intelligent mixture of training and injury prevention and ones that understood that early intervention was best for their bottom line.

The firm, which is a business-to-business provider with a national presence, tries to get employers to look at their problem in another way. The cost of a staff absence is around £150 to £200 a day, so overall, the cost of RehabWorks’ services is significantly less than the potential cost of rising absences.

“That’s what I try to demonstrate to clients. Don’t think of this as a cost. You have got to think of it as saving you money,” he explains.

“On direct costs, our services demonstrate a 300% saving on investment. When you overlay all the indirect costs, and people have differing views on that, you are up to a 700% return on investment. We are very confident this is not only the right thing for them to do by their employees but also by their shareholders.”

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Andy joined the company in 2011 as its commercial director, becoming its chief executive in 2012. A trained accountant, he had worked for KPMG in Chelmsford, then Eastern Electricity/TXU at its Wherstead Park, Ipswich, base, and was involved in setting up Your Energy Ltd at Ipswich’s Felaw Maltings before it was sold on in 2003-04.

Rehab Works, which started life as Bury Physio, was set up by physiotherapist Nicola Hunter and husband Andrew who grew the business. It became RehabWorks in 2003, and it was bought by London-based Sovereign Capital in 2010.

Sovereign decided to bring some additional experts in, including Andy, and he was tasked with coming up with “a plan on what needed to be done to sort the business out”. In 2012, he was put in charge. Today his management team includes operations director Greg Kane, clinical director Mark Armour and finance director Jason Blackman.

Andy’s plan appears to be working. In 2010, the firm employed 70 people and enjoyed a turnover of about £3m. This year, it employs 120 and its sales have reached about £7m. Andy believes that a couple of recent deals will take that figure closer to £10m. Within five years, he’s hoping to push that to £20m.

The firm has 10 centres around the country, with its headquarters at Bury St Edmunds. It works with about 780 physio practices and 350 cognitive behavioural therapists.

Historically, the business was very much focused on physiotherapy rehabilitation but has since branched out into other areas of staff health.

“What you are trying to do is to reduce absence, help people get back into work again or actually address the issue of ‘presenteeism’ – people who are at work who are not as effective as they could be because they have some kind of illness or injury.

“It’s a well known fact of the recent depression in the economic cycle that a lot of people have gone into work because they are in fear of losing their job,” he says. “You have got to address things as early as you can. There’s no point sitting on it for four to six weeks.”

Andy describes a three-way partnership between Rehab Works, the treating clinicians and the employee and stresses that his company is very much an outcome-based organisation.

“We have a number of metrics we use to assess their physical or mental status when they join us to the point of discharge. Those clinical assessments don’t tend to be shared with the employer,” he explains.

RehabWorks uses a system of informed consent to work with the employee, and gets the individual’s approval before they enter into the service. It is transparent, says Andy, who stresses rehabilitation will not succeed unless the patient buys into it.

“There seems to be an impression that most people are work-shy or don’t want to work. But actually, the majority of people who come to our service want to work. They want to be productive and don’t want to let their colleagues down. The buy-in doesn’t seem to be an issue at all with us,” he says.

“The unions really like our service because it has that structure to it. We very much put the patient at the centre of the service and engage with other stakeholders.”

Andy’s view that the company should stick to its guns over its stance and not chase business for the sake of it means that it has ruled itself out of some services it could have bid for – for example, the Government’s Personal Independence Payment which is replacing the Disability Living Allowance, and its Work Capability Assessment for those out of work and on the new Employment and Support Allowance. Given the size of these contracts, Rehab Works would have had to work on a sub-contract basis, but didn’t feel the “assessment only” schemes fitted its business or its ethos.

Andy has also concentrated on the wellbeing of his own staff. As a result, staff turnover has fallen from 30% when he joined to 8% today. 100% of staff say they feel engaged by the business and 97% would recommend working here to family and friends.

RehabWorks’ customers include a number of utilities organisations including BT, National Grid, Anglian Water, Severn Trent Water, and Northumbrian Water, which owns Essex & Suffolk Water, some retailers, such as Sainsbury’s, and a host of insurance companies including Aviva and Alliance.

It also has some small companies as clients, and it is more proactively targeting small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) as part of its growth strategy and has taken on three business development managers across the regions to capture a greater share of this market.

What Andy wants, he says, is “organisations that value their people”.

“Last summer I said we have got to be selective as a business and direct our own destiny by choosing the clients we work with who understand us as a partner and view us as a partner,” he says.

“That’s surprised some people in terms of going after any business we can go for. I want to work with clients who fit with us as an organisation.”

The firm has evolved a great deal from the core physiotherapy business from which it took root. It now has a psychological therapy service which grew out of its relationship with BT. The communications giant was so impressed with its physiotherapy service, it asked whether it could do anything on the mental health side.

“As a business we are moving into that occupational health and absence management arena but we are taking a different approach to it. Occupational health in particular, I think it’s come from a background of compliance rather than through vocational rehabilitation which is where we have come from,” he says.

It’s surprising, says Andy, how many businesses don’t know what their absence rates are, particularly the big ones. Often this is because these absences go unreported outside the immediate team, and don’t go through the formal mechanisms and channels.

“Our programmes are designed around the real world,” says Andy. “Last year we worked with Severn Trent Water to tackle significant absence incidences they had with teams who were out digging ditches. What they had was an assumption you would get injured doing your job. There was a high incidence rate.”

RehabWorks’ physios got into ditches with the employees and got them to understand how to warm up, etc. As a result of the initiative, Severn won a water industry accolade at the Water Industry Achievement Awards 2013 having turned 143 incidences into zero incidences.

“We can’t believe it either, but the majority of the workforce no longer expects to get injured doing that activity. That’s probably the hardest bit – changing people’s perceptions and mindsets,” says Andy.

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