Dr Linda Harris, Spectrum Community Health

Dr Linda Harris, Spectrum Community Health

As a leader, don’t be afraid to show you are passionate about what you are doing, says Dr Linda Harris, Founder and CEO of Spectrum Community Health, a social enterprise healthcare business.

What does your business do?

We are a not-for-profit social enterprise which provides vulnerable people with sexual health services and drug and alcohol treatment.

What was the inspiration for your business?

I am a GP and after working in London’s East End and Wakefield in Yorkshire I developed a special interest in the management of addiction in primary care and started to work in prisons. I decided that it would be great to create an organisation which focused on improving the outcomes of those sections of the population that didn’t have a voice, so I started to build a band of healthcare professionals with those skills and capabilities.

The business was formed ten years ago following a government initiative called Right to Request which enabled groups of clinicians to approach their NHS organisations with a vision for doing things differently and hopefully better for certain populations.

We started out with a £7.5 million contract from the NHS and 100 staff, and now we have a turnover of £67 million and 900 staff across the north of England providing services in prison such as sexual health, drug and alcohol treatment.

How did you finance the growth of your business?

After being awarded our initial contract, we financed the business by responding to procurements and tenders. In the early stages we also received small grants from government agencies such as the Social Enterprise Fund.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?

The impact has been huge. About 80-90% of our business is now in prisons or secure and detained settings, which were locked down and affected by outbreaks of Covid. As a result we have got very weary tired staff now as we come out of this; like all parts of the NHS there are recruitment challenges and we do fear the loss of some of them. So we are developing a new strategy which will have a focus very much on the health and wellbeing of our staff.

As an organisation that focuses on people with vulnerabilities we also see huge opportunities as we come out of the pandemic as the government clearly wants to tackle health inequalities in this country that have been exposed by it.

What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?

We have had to grow from very humble beginnings and most of our growth has been through responding to tenders. In the early stages it was a challenge to make really strong bids that won because we were up against the private sector and also up against our NHS colleagues. However once we started to build a track record and began to understand our unique selling points, we were able to respond to tenders well and also establish some excellent strategic partnerships.

What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?

That passion is infectious. I am always amazed by how much standing up in front of staff and expressing a vision evidencing that shared mindset, and doing it passionately, gets people on board. If you can match that passion with a really clear sense of purpose and then articulate that, even better.

What has been your biggest mistake?

Sometimes my passion runs away with me and I want to do something that requires a huge investment of energy. Invariably when that has happened we have got to a good place eventually but I look back sometimes and think, that probably took more investment than I perhaps bargained on. I sometimes don’t have my commercial head on enough.

What has been the secret of your success so far?

I am always blown away by the goodwill I have been able to draw on from the staff, whether they are front line or corporate. I have constantly had to ask people to do more than they thought they had in them, and yet I still see them going above and beyond and creating real innovation as a result for our patients and communities. Without those people, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success we have.

What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?

Don’t underestimate the time it will take; it will be huge, so prepare your family for that. My family were very kind and made sacrifices to enable me to put the investment in to building a business.

What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?


How does it feel to have been chosen as an SME Leader?

It is nice to be part of a group of people who have done so many amazing things and are looking to make a difference. That is a real joy.

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