It was with some trepidation that I arrived at Birmingham’s NEC on a damp Monday morning for the start of EHI Live 2011. I’ve been attending healthcare IT events and conferences for 15 years now, and recently they have seemed to be in serious decline.

Once you could barely move along the aisles because they were packed with senior NHS delegates who had a clear vision of what healthcare IT could achieve for patients, and the budgets to make it happen. More recently I’ve attended events where the loudest noises were the faint squeak of vendors crushing stress balls, and the murmuring as they visited one anothers’ stands to compare woes. Camaraderie in gloom!

Highland Marketing used to advise clients on choosing which events to attend. These days it’s about whether to turn up at all. Having looked at the advance material for EHI Live 2011, I gave a guarded recommendation that it was worth a go. Being an exhibitor involves a substantial investment, so my fingers were firmly crossed when I walked through the doors.

Relief. It was great. Lots of high-ranking NHS folk and a genuine buzz of enthusiasm in the air. The organisers reckon that they had 1,535 delegates and visitors (up 43% on last year) mixing with 718 exhibitors at 122 stands. At the same time EHI Intelligence has published a market forecast which suggests that English NHS hospital and mental health trusts will increase their IT spending by 3.7% over the next three years – creating a market worth £883 million.

Perhaps the NEC event was an early tangible sign of an upturn. Certainly the feedback we had from vendors was that it yielded some genuine business opportunities. My own sense is that there is a feeling of real
expectation among vendors and potential customers alike – but that there are still uncertainties to be negotiated. Will the Information Revolution ever materialise? What will happen to the remnants of the National Programme? What form will NHS commissioning end up taking? How much real freedom will trusts have to decide their own IT packages? What national guidelines and standards will they have to meet? Once we have clarity trusts can press the ‘go’ button.

The danger remains that the success of EHI Live 2011 may not be replicated at other events. Indeed, organisers should be coming up with ways to refresh their formats and offer something new. Too many events are basically exhibition + conference. Nonetheless, there’s clearly life in the old dog yet. So even if long winter months lie ahead for most of us, let’s hope that the healthcare IT market has finally begun to thaw.

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Susan Venables

Founder and Client Services Director
Susan takes a fresh approach to marketing and public relations. She established Highland Marketing in 2002 after a long career working with well-known agencies and clients ranging from SMEs to multi-nationals. During the past 20 years she has helped many companies within the technology and healthcare IT sectors to raise brand awareness and reach new potential customers. Susan is respected by clients, getting them and their services noticed when and where it matters, and by the media where she has many long-standing contacts.
“Effective marketing and communications demands a lot of passion, commitment and experience, and that's exactly what we provide for clients. Right from the start I match them with a team of people who each have at least ten years' experience, and who often know what it's like to run their own business. That mixture of maturity and determination is very potent. Clients really notice the difference, especially those who have previously worked with agencies that send in their top people to win an account then hand the actual work to inexperienced junior staff.”
A little about Susan:
  • Champion athlete - During her first year at Durham University she thought she would have a go at rowing. By the third year she was winning national competitions and was later part of the GB women's lightweight rowing squad.
  • Dog lover - Susan developed a love of dogs when she was a little girl in the Warwickshire market town of Southam when the family's pet used to protect her pram. These days she has two black Labradors, and a Samoyed to exercise.
  • No second best - As a child she always had a rebellious streak combined with a determination to excel, especially at sports like hockey, athletics and netball. Those traits carried over into adult life where she found her niche establishing and building her own business rather than following a corporate career path.

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