When we first saw the draft proposal for the merger of Holford’s Brain Bio Centre (BBC) with Teesside University’s Cactus Clinic (CC) we were concerned by the scope of what was proposed: it could have seemed that Teesside were endorsing poor-quality research for business reasons. However, looking over how the business case for this (or lack thereof) developed over a number of documents, it actually begins to seem that this is a very unpromising business ‘opportunity’ for Teesside. We’re going to discuss this business case, drawing on the Freedom of Information Act response in this zip file.
Document 1 is a draft proposal, which suggests merging BBC and CC to create a “self sufficient and profitable [BBC] of the North”. It was hoped that this new BBC could draw in both NHS and private insurance funding. Document 2 – the minutes from a 3/8/06 meeting – is still optimistic that Holford’s and BBC’s involvement would let Teesside expand CC and to take the clinic “to the point of self-sufficiency and profitability”. Again it is hoped that a BBC North would be able to bring in both private insurance and PCT money.
There were proposals to publicise the launch of the BBC North in Feb/Mar 2007 (Document 1) – but, clearly, this hasn’t happened. The FOIA documents released by Teesside will help to give a sense as to why. We are not entirely clear as to what happened over the intervening months, but Document 3 (2/3/07) made clear that CC and BBC would not merge. The document does express “doubts about the ability of N clients to pay”, which may have been an issue. There are also concerns about the “size of the market” and who would “carry the can” if the venture loses money.
Document 4 (10/7/07) notes that Food for the Brain had awarded a £12,500 bursary for a Teesside PhD student (more on that later) while Tony Chapman – Assistant Dean (Enterprise) – expresses concern at the continuing lack of a written business plan. In a 24/10/07 memo (Document 16) Teesside’s Deputy Vice Chancellor notes that:
While negotiations are ongoing about linkages between [CC and BBC] and a possibility of establishing a second Brain Bio Centre at Teesside, nothing is agreed.
These memoranda signal doubts about the economic viability of such an association. Worries have also been expressed about the proposed evaluation of the intervention (especially if this evaluation was construed as lacking proper independence from the intervention teams) as this may have a reputational impact on the School…
We have checked our finances in the School and confirm that [the agreed FFTB bursary] has not been paid. In any case, the criteria for accepting the bursary has not been agreed pending further questions on costs.
Oh dear, that seems like the sound of a business case collapsing. If it weren’t for concerns about the patients of any Northern BBC, I’d feel bad for Teesside and for Holford’s colleagues there.
Of course, if Teesside is concerned about ‘reputational impact’, they would have been well-advised to think carefully about whether to appoint Holford as visiting professor. They would also be well-advised to consider the damage that retaining an association to Holford, FFTB and BBC is doing to their reputation.
As far as I can tell, Teesside is failing to even get the anticipated business benefits of their association with Holford. However, the academic and reputational damage will be priceless.