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Christchurch Company Stops Medical Devices From Going To Landfill, Making Them Safe for Re-Use And Saving Healthcare Dollars In The Process

A Christchurch startup tackling environmental and financial waste in the health sector has ambitions to prevent as much as 1700 tonnes of ‘single-use’ medical devices going to landfill each year, saving hospitals tens of millions of dollars.

Oliver Hunt believes his company, Medsalv, has one of the most sustainable business models in the country. Everything, he says, hinges on cutting waste to landfill and — by allowing medical devices to be reused instead of manufacturing more — reducing emissions.

“Every decision we make at Medsalv is measured against the yardstick of sustainability,” the 26-year-old says.

Medsalve Oliver Hunt

Every decision we make at Medsalv is measured against the yardstick of sustainability,” 

Oliver Hunt - Medsalv

Simply put, the Christchurch company takes used medical devices from hospitals, reprocesses them at its Woolston facility and sells them back to health providers at a much cheaper rate, meaning the health dollar goes further. Reprocessing a device involves rigorous sorting, cleaning and testing to ensure it functions to at least the same level as a new product.

“People think that the cleaning is the difficult part,” Hunt says. “While it definitely has its complexities, the most technologically challenging aspect is the functional testing and validation of the product, which ensures every product we send to hospitals performs exactly the same as a new product should.”

But aren’t the devices meant to be single-use?

For hospitals to reuse medical devices, Hunt says manufacturers must provide them with validated procedures to make sure they’re safe to use again. Often, they choose not to do this, he says, as it means they can’t sell as many.

“That’s quite a key message for the hospitals because we’re not talking about needles and bandages and syringes here. We’re talking about quite substantial pieces of kit.”

Hunt founded Medsalv in late 2017 after a conversation with his uncle, an orthopaedic surgeon. He showed Hunt a box filled with expensive medical devices which couldn’t be used because their sterilisation limit had expired.

“It was pretty clear from the outset that there was a huge amount of waste,” Hunt says.

At the time, the Medsalv founder had been looking for a project for his master’s in engineering management at the University of Canterbury. He seized the idea and ran with it, incorporating the company and getting a scholarship to develop the business through the UC Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) summer startup programme.

Awards and recognition followed, including Hunt winning the 2017-18 Dream Believe Succeed Award, an accolade which came with a sizable cash prize. By September 2018, Medsalv had delivered its first reprocessed devices to a hospital; that year it also secured its Woolston premises, which include an incoming warehouse, a processing plant, an outgoing warehouse and office space.

Now, Hunt says, the company deals with organisations representing more than half the hospital beds in New Zealand. Currently, Medsalv processes about 30 types and brands of devices, the bulk of which are made up of things like compression sleeves and foot covers.

As well as the scholarship from UCE, Hunt and the company have received ongoing support from ThincLab, the business incubator operating from the UCE building on the university campus.

“They’re giving us advice and making sure we’re maintaining our investment readiness,” Hunt says. ThincLab also provides support when it comes to sales strategy — Medsalv, which has an ambitious goal of reprocessing up to 1700 tonnes of medical devices a year, only plans to keep growing.

“We're looking to expand our existing devices into all of the hospitals we can in New Zealand and we're also working to expand the range of devices we can process,” Hunt says.


Medsalve has been supported by ThincLab at the University of Canterbury, read more about Oliver and his journey from an idea to reality on the ThincLab blog