Drawing its strength from being a surgeon-owned, multi-specialist business, the group opened its second site in Elstree, Hertfordshire in April after launching in central London’ New Cavendish Street in 2019. The clinics, along with the services the company also offers in other places, are for private day patients.
These unite top class medical expertise with state-of-the-art equipment, a combination that maximises the rapid advances technology has brought about in the eye care sector.
Founders Ali Mearza, Allon Barsam and Romesh Angunawela were all NHS consultant surgeons with private practices when they decided to form the joint operation.
This kind of collaboration was something they had observed when working overseas, but was not commonplace in the UK.
Former nurse and now OCL’s chief operating officer Juliet Hicks joined and oversaw the merger of the three practices into a property in London’s West End.
“It was a huge undertaking to reconfigure everything and ensure it all runs smoothly to get the best outcomes which is why it has not been common,” says Mr Mearza.
“Increasing overheads make it very difficult for a consultant working alone. We knew collaborative innovation was the future.
“Essentially we take the headache out of independent practice and there are huge advantages in being part of a clinically-led team.
“Juliet’s role was crucial in achieving this – setting up the company and its shareholder agreements and overseeing the architects’ and building work. We all worked together to establish the management system and workflow processes.”
From digital consent forms and one encouraging optometrists to refer patients to setting up collaborative groups for professionals and getting its messages out on TikTok, “being independent and clinically-led enables us to be nimble and embrace new technology. Our interactive work also helps educate and provide factually correct information,” he explains.
OCL’s own DropAdrop app reminds patients about post-procedure medication and has proved itself a highly effective preventative measure in certain glaucoma cases.
The efficiencies have other positive benefits for customers, for example for cataract surgery where patients can have both eyes treated in one session.
In 2020 the company’s fourth shareholder and retinal specialist Chien Wong came on board, joining his cornea and refractive expert colleagues.
Investment has come from the owners and £2million of commercial loan backing from HSBC to fund the high tech equipment and Elstree expansion. Turnover currently £10million is forecast to grow 40 per cent over the next three years
Today OCL has a team of 30 staff, with plans to recruit up to 15 more. As well as vision correction treatments, its under-one-roof operation offers retinal therapy for diabetes and macular degeneration, glaucoma laser surgery, reconstructive procedures for eye lids and treatments for tear duct problems, many of them complex procedures that have attracted a broader age range of patients.
Like for so many, lockdown was a blow, but demand, both domestic and from patients coming from overseas, is rising again. Consultations are up over 92 per cent and procedures by 84 per cent as inquiries hit 3,000 a month in March
NHS backlogs for cataract surgery (OCL’s is from £2,500) have also increased the numbers of patients seeking treatments and its team offers an emergency service that aims to treat retinal detachments within hours.
“Our approach is holistic, we scan extensively,” declares Mr Mearza. “That means we can also pick up things patients were unaware of. We have the potential to become the best eye care brand in the world.”