Doing the plastic fantastic
There are many different types of plastic, and not all of them are created equal. The varieties currently in the news, causing huge problems in ecosystems worldwide – polyethylene, polypropylene and PET – are at the bottom of the pile in terms of quality.
Further up the rungs of the ladder are engineering and high-performance plastics, which are manufactured on a much more limited scale than common plastics, have highly advantageous performance properties and, consequently, can cost as much as £300 per kilo.
Polyether-ether-ketone (or PEEK), a colourless thermoplastic polymer, is at the very top of the plastics pyramid. The name might not sound familiar, but it’s everywhere, from household devices such as earphones and refrigerator compressors, to airplanes, which can contain as much as a tonne of it.
Two models of the successful commercialisation of proprietary technology
PEEK was invented by Victrex, a British company which held the patent till the 2000s, and which was spun out of Imperial Chemical Industries – or ICI – itself the product of a merger of four leading British chemical companies in 1926.
Originally Victrex was solely a supplier of basic PEEK resins, but as its patent expired it moved into the manufacturing of compound PEEK materials. Victrex’s PEEK film, which is used as a backing material for micro-speakers, can withstand stresses several times higher than standard speaker diaphragms.
More than 200 million drivers rely on Victrex’s PEEK products, in the form of the anti-lock braking and electronic stability control systems of their cars. Certain gears are also made of it, thanks to the polymer’s outstanding resistance to wear.
Not only has PEEK played a seminal role in replacing metal in the automotive, aerospace and energy sectors but, being biocompatible and biologically inert, it has also become a viable alternative to titanium and steel medical implants.
In 1999, Victrex launched PEEK-Optima Natural as the world’s first implantable PEEK polymer, founding a new subdivision, Invibio, to produce and distribute the new material. The polymer and its reinforced compounds can be found in more than nine million spine, knee, trauma and dental implants around the world.
Invibio recently reached an exclusive agreement to supply its PEEK-Optima ultra- reinforced carbon fibre technology to In2Bones USA, a leading global manufacturer of arm and leg implants. With a subsidiary in Hong Kong, an innovation centre in Shanghai and a recent announcement to form a joint venture with Yingkou Xingfu Chemical Company, Invibio has been building a strong presence on the Asian market too.
Vitrex’s 18 years of corporate history demonstrates how innovative technologies wedded with business acumen can translate patents into enterprises, profit and eventually a leading position on the global market. Meanwhile, the example of Mura Technology, a Teesside-based plastic-neutral recycler, shows how far impact investment can go in transferring and upscaling a world-class patent.
One of the key partners in this success story of international co-operation is Armstrong Capital, a London-based investment firm managing green energy assets for high-net-worth individuals and family offices. Its chairman, Steve Mahon, is an investment professional with a strong track record in renewable energy and waste and a background in geophysics.
But it all started with Licella, the Australian developer of the catalytic hydrothermal reactor (Cat-HTR), a hydrothermal upgrading platform that can turn biomass or non-recyclable plastic into biofuels and chemicals.
Hydrothermal upgrading, a type of advanced recycling alongside with pyrolysis – another highly promising nascent technology – uses supercritical (high temperature and pressure) water to break down polymer chains and convert plastics, including non-recyclable ones, into what they were originally made of.
Mura, the successor of a joint venture between Licella’s and Armstrong Capital Management’s subsidiaries, was issued the royalty-free exclusive global licence for Licella’s existing and future patents outside Australia and New Zealand in 2019, with Steve Mahon as CEO.
The first company to take out Mura’s license and build the world’s first Cat-HTR has been its subsidiary, ReNew ELP. The plant is scheduled to start operation in 2022 and reach one million tonnes recycling capacity by 2025. There is also a plan to follow the launch of the first Teesside plant with quick rollouts of the technology in the US, Germany and Asia.
Mura’s advanced recycling technology, which enables a wide range of plastics – including multilayer and flexible varieties – to be recycled indefinitely, is supported by several environmentalists, such as marine biologist Sylvia Earle and Jo Ruxton, co-founder of Plastic Ocean Foundation. Before the pandemic hit, the Cat-HTR technology also earned kudos from the United Nations’ General Assembly, as an innovative technology that can help solve the world’s plastic pollution and contribute to a plastic circular economy.
In 2020 we saw how Covid-19 slowed down efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution, and even put additional burden on the environment by making single-use the norm. Tens of thousands of masks, just to bring one example, were discarded by Royal Cornwall Hospital hospital in a single day. But Welsh brand Sterimelt has stepped up to the plate to address one important aspect of the single-use plastics crisis that the pandemic has exacerbated.
The Sterimelt unit of recycling machinery manufacturer Thermal Compaction Group (TCG) enables users to melt their single-use polypropylene plastics waste into a commodity on-site. As the process removes any contamination from the waste, the resulting blocks can be sold to plastics manufacturers and turned into kidney bowls, 3D filament, plaster cast replacements and many other things, thus creating additional revenue streams.
The Sterimelt device was originally designed to recycle surgical tray wraps and drapes in hospitals but has since been adapted to melting surgical masks, as well as other PPI. Sterimelt’s signature rectangular plastic blocks then can be converted into pellets and used as feedstock. Mask recycling using Sterimelt machines was piloted in three areas at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals in December 2020, and in March 2021 it was announced that TCG had entered into a joint venture with Dutch sustainability specialist Greencycl, with a view to showcasing Sterimelt technology to hospital decision-makers across the Netherlands and Europe.
Although all three players operate on a different scale and have adopted different models of commercialising innovative technologies within the plastic value chain, they all demonstrate how the association with plastic can earn a business commercial success, a reputation as an ecologically responsible innovator, and entry to markets outside the UK.
Understanding the threat is the key to defending against cyber-attack
Damon Rands, CEO and Founder of Wolfberry Cyber
Cyber-security is a process, not a product.
According to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey published by the UK government in March 2021, 39 per cent of UK businesses have reported a breach within the past 12 months – a 6 per cent decrease from last year’s report. However, the study suggests that the risk of cyber-attack is higher than ever before, with breaches not only happening more frequently but also going undetected.
The seismic shift in the way we work poses a plethora of risks to companies, leaving businesses to blindly navigate the new threat landscape of this post-pandemic world. With a majority of office staff working from home, there is lower visibility of user activity and more endpoints to keep track of. Many organisations continue to express their concerns, with 77 per cent of businesses stating cyber security is a high priority for their directors or senior managers. However only 52 per cent of businesses took action to identify security risks, leaving nearly half of businesses completely vulnerable.
In 2014 the UK government launched the Cyber Essentials scheme, a government-backed, industry-supported scheme to help organisations improve their cyber-security. However, the same survey tells us that only 14 per cent of UK businesses are aware of the scheme, suggesting that while many business owners are concerned, there is a general lack of awareness of cyber-security standards within the UK, or urgency to comply.
We all know the devastating effects that cyber-crime can have on businesses: the disruption and lasting damage is something we see daily. With all this in mind, what exactly is stopping UK businesses from taking control of their cyber-security?
For many businesses concerned with the effects cyber-criminals could have on their organisation, it can be an issue of not knowing who to turn to. Many companies may refer to their IT team, but cyber-security is not simply an IT issue – the organisation as a whole has a part to play in protecting and defending against a cyber-attack.
Many business owners turn to vendors, buying unnecessary hardware or software that is usually unsuitable for their systems. This results in many business owners being led down very expensive rabbit holes, with thousands spent but with no actual protection against a cyber-attack. Unfortunately this is something we see all too often. We recently began an engagement with a client who had invested over £100,000 in a disaster recovery site, only to be told that all of their sensitive data was stored in the cloud. This rendered their protection useless, a white elephant.
What businesses need to understand is that security is a process, not a product. The key is to identify what data is being held, how the data is used and what current controls are in place around it. That is why we recommend undertaking a cyber-audit with an external cyber-security consultancy to any business wanting to truly understand the threat.
A cyber-audit should be a comprehensive analysis of your systems, comprising of two main areas: technical and governance.
The technical review is a thorough examination of the internal and external systems of an organisation’s network. Penetration tests are performed to check for vulnerabilities in the external systems that may give cyber-criminals easy access to internal systems.
Vulnerability scans are performed to review the internal systems: checking the configuration of the organisation’s network, that systems are patched securely, whether the antivirus is working and whether devices are securely configured and installed. With 83 per cent of UK businesses reporting phishing attacks in the last year, testing the integrity of internal users is more important than ever. Bespoke phishing campaigns are created to fully test and train users to spot malicious emails.
The governance review is an assessment of the policies and procedures used to manage security throughout the company, reflecting the culture of cyber-security and appetite for risk within the company.
Once the audit is complete, a detailed and understandable report is given to the client, enabling them to fully understand their security posture and how they compare to industry standard frameworks. In turn this allows them to make informed changes and create a roadmap for improvement.
When it comes to cyber-security, preparation is key. Not having the proper controls in place before a cyber-attack happens can have devastating effects on any organisation. It’s not a matter of if but when a cyber-attack will happen.
Show that you take cyber security seriously – get in touch with Wolfberry today at www.wolfberrycs.com
The UK needs a rebrand – an expert explains how
As the UK prepares for economic recovery from Covid and makes the best of Brexit, it is striking that there has been no talk of investing in the national brand. A post-Brexit “global Britain” will need more than rhetoric – and something more sophisticated than the nine-year-old GREAT Britain promotional campaign – to sell its products and services, develop new strategic alliances, retain its soft power, and make the nation an attractive destination.
UK governments have tended not to engage in serious branding activities. They have preferred to focus on slogans and logo-heavy campaigns that draw heavily on marketing tools such as advertising (the regular VisitBritain tourism campaigns), PR (Tony Blair’s so-called “Cool Britannia” party in the 1990s), and exhibitions (Food is GREAT at China’s 2020 International Import Expo).
At such a key moment for the country, to not attempt to build an all-encompassing national brand would be a major missed opportunity. Ending free movement of labour with the EU means having to work much harder to attract talent and investment. The extra costs and bureaucracy around exports means having to work harder to make British products competitive. Projecting a positive brand image both inside the UK and to the world will make these things easier.
Why branding matters
Research shows that when a nation has a positive brand it leads to economic power, wealth, national confidence and success. Perceptions of national characteristics or skills become associated with important industries: for example, Japan with consumer electronics, Germany with automotive engineering, and Switzerland with precision watchmaking. “Made in Japan”, “Made in Germany” and “Made in Switzerland” bring to mind high-quality and innovative products, and create a powerful country-of‐origin effect.
Brand image also contributes to, and is determined by, a country’s soft power – the ability to achieve what it wants through influence, reputation and attraction. The UK has normally wielded substantial soft power through institutions such as the BBC World Service and the British Council, as well as the international standing of UK academics and charities. The most recent Global Soft Power Index showed the UK holding its third-placed ranking, despite making a very poor job of handling coronavirus and suffering a drop in its overall score.
But there is usually a lag effect in the rankings when it comes to reputation. While the UK’s successful vaccination programmes may well benefit its reputation for competence, issues such as the reduction of foreign aid, hesitation around delivering climate change promises, and highly visible controversies around immigration and institutional racism may be storing up image problems for the future.
An action plan
The government should first establish an independent brand unit or task force to manage the UK brand permanently. A clear commitment from the top is needed to ensure everyone buys into the strategy and to prevent sub-brands, say from industry sectors, cities or devolved nations, overshadowing the UK master brand.
For instance, Switzerland takes its national brand so seriously that it is enshrined in legislation and managed by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. In the past year, it has risen three places to fifth in the Global Soft Power Index. Meanwhile South Korea, another country with rising soft power, has taken a similarly all-encompassing approach through its Presidential Brand Council.
Once the UK has set up such a unit for managing the brand, it will need to involve all sectors in developing a long-term strategy that has a clear vision, common values and differentiates the nation from rivals.
One example of a well-managed national brand is 100% Pure New Zealand, which is reinforced by policies and actions and aimed at promoting everything from tourism to exports. New Zealand even banned companies from producing and selling genetically engineered and modified foods, knowing that they would have compromised the brand.
Closer to home, the Blair government showed what is possible with Innovation UK, a branding strategy aimed at reversing the perception that the UK was not innovative. Importantly, this branding was not based on just telling the world that the UK was innovative: it focused on the emotional message that the UK had “a passion to share our ideas and breakthroughs with others in order to enrich the quality of life for all citizens of the world”. This was authenticated by many examples of UK innovations that had helped change the world in a positive way.
Everyone from government ministers to companies, universities and other research bodies worked within this branding to show that the UK was open, outward-facing, and taking a leadership role in the world. The strategy achieved tremendous gains in business relationships and international collaborations. A similar strategy today might focus on the climate emergency and Britain leading the world in a green recovery.
But more broadly, what should the British brand be based on? While the UK is well known around the world, many of the associations are rooted in the past: is it still the country of Downton Abbey, afternoon tea, bad food, colonialism and empire? The Brexit vote and subsequent negotiations have reinforced an image of the UK as insular and exceptionalist. These perceptions may be partly true, but they are not the whole story. A branding programme would manage the negative perceptions while reinforcing the positives.
These positives would include areas where the UK is strong, such as science and technology, education, culture and financial services. The strategy would emphasise the UK’s underlying values: how it wants to be thought of and talked about around the world. Decency, fairness, creativity and inclusion might be in the mix.
Fundamentally, the nation brand is one of the most important assets of any state. Managing it is challenging, but the huge benefits outweigh the difficulties. At this moment of inflection, it is time to do something about it.
Putting you in control of your data with XMOS
Mark Lippett, CEO, XMOS
The tech giants know so much more about us than we might think. By owning a smartphone or having a smart home assistant, we’re enabling these large corporations to interpret, learn from and influence our behaviours in a way that furthers their business model. With the current reliance on cloud connectivity, alongside the growing adoption of voice interfaces, imaging and presence detection cost, reliability and privacy rapidly become primary concerns. For many consumers, convenience currently outweighs these issues, but is it time to examine alternative solutions that put the user in control?
Edge computing brings processing and data storage on-device, providing a firewall between the user’s privacy, and the tech giants, while retaining valuable utility. The user’s data is no longer a commodity to be monetised by corporations.
By moving cloud processing into the home in an affordable manner – both in terms of power consumption and device cost – the XMOS edge solution ensures the privacy of the user, providing a filter between the home and the service providers. The user can no longer be observed or listened to, but if required, there is a window to the cloud that opens only with explicit consent. For example, an elderly relative may have a smart device in their bathroom. It would be a security and privacy concern to have this permanently connected to the cloud, always on, listening and recording, but if that relative had a fall, you may want them to be able to call out to a virtual assistant for help, connecting to you or to the emergency services. This filtering capability not only delivers clear utility, it also enhances the safety of relatives while providing reassurance for you.
Ease and convenience of use are also primary concerns, and particularly important when it comes to new environments. Whether it’s staying at a hotel or moving into a university dorm for the first time, edge computing allows the user to seamlessly integrate into their surroundings. It provides a safe, secure, intuitive interaction.
There is an enormous diversity of “things” that will benefit from intelligence at the edge, both within the home and beyond. As we drive further and further towards voice-based, touch-free interfaces, this technology promises a revolutionary impact on safety, security and privacy in our day-to-day lives.
Discover more about the XMOS edge-processing solution at xmos.ai/xcore-ai/
Your one-stop shop for business expenses and international payments
Graham Smith, Managing Director and Murray Bagshaw, Operations Director, Volopa
Founded in 2011, Volopa was one of the UK’s first innovators in the global payments, foreign exchange and prepaid cards space. We have helped lead a new wave of fintech disruptors that have changed the way people manage and send their money. Through a decade of work and innovation, we are proud to have been consistently recognised among the top 20 most influential fintech companies in Europe.
Volopa’s ethos has always emphasised quality over quantity. To date, Volopa has offered premium and bespoke services to an exclusive group of high net worth individuals and prestige companies. Our clients enjoy a high level of service in all walks of life, and their financial services are no different. Whether they are using our card programme domestically or while travelling, or looking to make an international payment for personal or business purposes, our clients demand innovative solutions that give them competitive rates, with transparency and the quality of service they require.
Drawing on our success over the past decade, we have decided to expand the Volopa Business offering and invite all SMEs to experience our premium-level service and industry-leading platform.
Authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as a payment institution and able to issue multicurrency prepaid cards across the European Economic Area (EEA), Volopa offers its clients a platform that combines world-class technology with currency expertise to help businesses manage their international payments and company expenses in a simple, cost-effective and transparent way, providing a one-stop shop platform.
Our easy-to-use product and globally accepted prepaid cards allow companies to have complete transparency on where and what their employees are spending at any moment in time. This enables them to communicate with their employees in real-time, anywhere in the world, do away with expense forms and empower all their employees – not just key executives.
We give total control over how money is being spent within the system. We have built-in features, such as setting card transaction limits, enabling and disabling transaction types, and setting up auto-loading rules 24/7, that result in the automation of admin functions, while maintaining granular control, giving our clients complete peace of mind.
Signing up is completely free and we do not believe in hidden costs. Instead, we deliver complete transparency with fixed transaction fees, which are only charged when you choose to exchange currency at our highly competitive rates or withdraw cash via a business card at an ATM. This means that unless you are looking to make an international payment, travel abroad or withdraw cash at an ATM, our solution is completely free to use, but stands ready to support your team anywhere in the world 24/7.
Volopa’s wealth of real-world experience, combined with its agile fintech expertise, can provide an easy-to-use bespoke solution for your business, delivering a value proposition perfectly designed to streamline your expenses, reduce costs and empower your employees both at home or anywhere in the fast-moving global economy.
Visit volopa.com to find out more about how we can empower your business today
Helping healthcare teams become more efficient, effective and productive
Dr. Richard More, CEO, Xytal
A huge amount has changed in the NHS since its inception in 1948. An ageing population, and with it a commensurate rise in long-term health conditions, is placing increasing demands on the NHS in all areas and at all levels. The resultant pressure to provide a high standard of care together with ever increasing costs and shifting patient expectations ultimately filters down to individuals and teams in both primary and secondary care environments. The NHS is full of highly experienced, capable and motivated people but when it comes to providing a healthcare service fit for the 21st century, it is vital that these people are doing the right things, in the right way and with the right support and training.
This is where Xytal comes in. Clinically founded and led, since 2006 this NHS England delivery partner and HSSF-accredited supplier has helped over 1,000 general practice, PCN and secondary care teams at all levels to become more efficient, effective and productive. Xytal’s focus is on people, purpose and performance. Its team consists of a unique group of both clinical and non-clinical professionals from both the public and private sectors, with the “real-world” skills and experience to plan, optimise and implement the solutions needed for your organisation.
Xytal’s services and solutions focus on issues that are all too common – and probably all too familiar – to healthcare professionals and teams. Issues such as ever-increasing workloads, increased frustration, stress and low morale; an overflowing volume of correspondence to manage; increasing numbers of complaints, and problems in recruiting new staff. Xytal’s aim is to address such issues by working with you to understand your challenges and goals and to then guide and support you in bringing excellence to your organisation, services and patients.
The Xytal mission is to make a material difference to healthcare in the UK. Its approach blends a detailed knowledge of and experience in healthcare services and processes with the best tried-and-tested approaches and solutions from the business, research and private sector worlds. Many of Xytal’s consultants are still active in frontline primary care, and this hands-on experience is complemented by consultants with business process, management and analytical backgrounds. However, Xytal doesn’t just deliver the what, it shows you the how. Guided by its shared values, energy and enthusiasm, Xytal has the expertise to deliver bespoke, end-to-end solutions that address your needs.
Featured image provided by Xytal
Businesses say they want to tackle inequalities but they need more data to take action
Covid-19 has brought challenges like no other for businesses. In the UK, where firms have also had to deal with the challenges of Brexit, the resilience and adaptability amid such adversity has been remarkable. But there has also been recognition of opportunities for change in the longer term. One area of which is the role of businesses in tackling social inequalities.
With a lot of attention given to the shape and make-up of company boards, both over a lack of gender and ethnic diversity, there has been much debate about diversity measures in business. In February it was reported that the number of black people at the top of Britain’s biggest listed companies had fallen to zero, despite public commitments to increase diversity in leadership. The Investors Association also said they will issue warnings to firms if they do not disclose the ethnic diversity of their boards or have a credible action plan to address the issue.
While such actions are incredibly important, structural inequalities span wider than diversity initiatives and action is needed beyond merely the upper echelons of business.
In a recent survey of 200 companies across London that we conducted with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), we found a clear desire among business leaders of all sizes and sectors to engage with this issue of inequalities – more than 80% said that the capital’s business community can do more.
Despite the current challenging business environment, 75% of respondents said tackling inequalities in society over the next six to 12 months is important to their business. And one in five reported this to be an “extremely important” business priority. As a collective, the business community appears to clearly recognise the need for action to ensure an equitable and inclusive recovery from Covid-19.
The problems involved are also clear. The gender pay gap in hourly pay across the capital is still 17.5% and on the rise. For disability, there is a difference of 15% between disabled and non-disabled workers in London. And in our survey, only 9% of firms reported that they collect data on their disability pay gap – the lowest percentage of all answers given. A greater proportion of firms recorded employee education (19%) and the community engagement of employees (12%).
Similarly, while over a fifth of London business leaders stated their firms are tracking their ethnicity pay gap, this still lags significantly behind work on gender reporting.
Yet at an individual business level, analysis of findings from the survey shows that gender equality receives more attention than action on other protected characteristics, such as disability and ethnicity. This is causing a hierarchy of inequalities to persist within the labour market. While a significant majority of firms (both large and small) stated they had continued to report on their gender pay gap despite not being legally required to in 2020 because of the pandemic, reporting on other protected characteristics remains very low.
Greater data collection, conducted in discussion with employees and grounded in employee experiences, can guide actions to reduce inequalities and foster inclusion in employment. And businesses themselves recognise this.
When asked what the most effective and practical ways for business to measure improvements in diversity, inclusion and equality were, 43% of respondents stated greater data collection. Strikingly, this figure rose to 73% for respondents from larger firms. Yet despite this high level of support for greater collection, of the same respondents, only 43% recorded that they currently report ethnicity pay gaps.
It is not enough, however, to focus on measuring inequalities alone, we also need to make sure these inequalities are meaningfully addressed. Avoiding creating (or, indeed, cementing) hierarchies of inequalities or prioritising action to tackle one area of inequity over another is critical.
Businesses should look across the board at the whole range of inequalities they need to tackle, not just focus action on gender or ethnicity for example. And they need to look at what inequalities exist in their own businesses as well as reaching out to understand how wider structural inequalities in society affects business. As an individual’s job is more than merely counting hours and collecting a salary, it affects every aspect of lives, from health to housing.
These findings show the need for businesses to undertake analysis of how these characteristics and data groups overlap – taking into account how people’s outcomes are simultaneously affected by multiple factors such as gender, disability and ethnicity.
Assessing and comparing data so that we avoid focus being placed on one area alone is urgently needed. Looking at social inequalities, at people’s lives as a whole, their many characteristics and the multiple, interlinked and stacked disadvantages they face, it is essential for firms to identify patterns of intersecting inequalities and build action to address different outcomes.
Despite the immense challenges businesses have faced over the past 18 months, the survey responses clearly demonstrate that the business community is up for the challenge. In short, it’s not just about getting things going again. It’s about capitalising on this opportunity to rethink and recognise the role of business in building a more equitable society.
The UK's speedy Covid-19 vaccine rollout: surprise success or planned perfection?
The UK’s Covid-19 response has been criticised severely. Britain is among the countries with the highest number of recorded Covid-19 cases and deaths. But with its vaccination campaign, its fortunes seem to have turned.
The UK is one of the world’s front runners when it comes to vaccine coverage. On December 8 2020, it became the first country to start administering a fully trialled and tested Covid-19 vaccine to its citizens. Since then, more than 18 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, with over 600,000 second doses also being administered.
The UK government has pledged that all adults will be offered a vaccine before the end of July. This would be a huge achievement less than eight months after vaccinations began. Initially, this deadline was late autumn, which demonstrates the success of Britain’s initiative to date. The speedier rollout of the vaccine raises hopes for a swifter end to restrictions. Unsurprisingly, rollout so far has been termed a “rare pandemic success”. Here’s how it’s been achieved.
Keeping up supply
The UK government’s end-of-July vaccination target looks achievable, and by maintaining an average speed of 2.9 million vaccinations per week – which is what has been achieved so far – the entire UK adult population could receive both doses by late September. Reaching and maintaining this pace requires consistent vaccine supplies, and the key to this lies in the supply chain.
Supply shortages have plagued vaccine rollouts around the world. A prominent example has been the dispute between the EU and AstraZeneca. The manufacturer drastically cut deliveries of its vaccine, citing production issues.
While the UK and the EU signed broadly similar contracts with AstraZeneca, British negotiators demonstrated a better understanding of the supply chain. The UK contract contains a commitment by AstraZeneca that the British supply chain “will be appropriate and sufficient” for the supply of the doses the country purchased. If its supply chain were to be insufficient at any point, AstraZeneca would need to cover any shortfall from elsewhere in its global network. The EU contract does not contain an equivalent clause.
Committing early to contracts with suppliers has been another positive in the UK’s vaccine procurement, as has the willingness to invest. The UK has spent £11.7 billion on purchasing, manufacturing and deploying Covid-19 vaccines as well as on vaccine research. Kate Bingham, the former chair of the UK Covid-19 vaccine task force, has highlighted that her purchasing strategy focused on which vaccines were being developed quickly rather than cost.
The UK now finds itself in the position of having secured access to seven vaccine candidates and potentially many more doses than it needs. It has already ordered enough doses of the vaccines currently authorised to cover its population. As additional vaccines are approved, its supplies will grow further still.
Manufacturing capacity has been the subject of long-term investment from the British government too. As a result, manufacturing infrastructure was already in place at the beginning of the pandemic and could be scaled up quickly, which resulted in three vaccines being made in the UK, giving ready access to supplies. Quickly kickstarting manufacturing also gave Britain the chance to iron out any production glitches early on; the EU has instead had to resolve these more recently, denting its supplies.
Long-term research investment has also helped. The UK, unsurprisingly, was at the front of the queue for the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca, and has ordered more of this one than others. Oxford scientists had already been researching a vaccine that could be used against a disease like Covid-19. Ready access to large stocks of a working vaccine is somewhat down to research investment that stretches back years.
Planning the distribution
But early investment and clever procurement alone do not account for the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout. They are paired with an excellent distribution network. The centralised structure of the NHS has offered an ideal platform for planning and coordination; but a varied and localised system of delivery has ensured the rollout has been effective.
In England alone there are more than 1,500 vaccination sites. These consist of GP surgeries and community pharmacies at the smaller end through to hospital hubs and mass vaccination centres established in sports centres, race courses and showgrounds. While the larger vaccination hubs offer speedy inoculations for many, the smaller community-based services ensure that access is broad.
This diverse network of vaccination sites does make distribution more challenging. Supplies need to be split among the sites without any one location running out unexpectedly or doses going to waste. Effective planning and stock management is critical, and for this reason, experienced medicines distributors have been brought in to make sure that supplies can continually be delivered.
Indeed, this is part of a wider effort to bundle together the strengths of different organisations and individuals and using their existing capabilities to make the rollout as quick as possible. For instance, alongside industry experts, military logistics planners and personnel have been drafted in to help with distribution.
The Covid-19 vaccine rollout is an unprecedented logistical effort. The UK is currently handling this challenge better than many other countries, which could well learn from it. However, after the high burden of deaths, illness, repeated lockdowns and economic damage, the pressure on the UK to maintain the speed of its rollout is high. The country is still in lockdown, and hopes for an end to restrictions rest on its vaccination campaign’s success.
Sarah Schiffling, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management, Liverpool John Moores University and Liz Breen, Director of the Digital Health Enterprise Zone (DHEZ), University of Bradford, Reader in Health Service Operations, University of Bradford