Made in Britain: Functional Gut Diagnostics

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Functional Gut Diagnostics is a Manchester-based health-firm which looks to provide a quick and accurate diagnosis for anyone suffering with gastrointestinal problems.

Simon Freedman, general manager of Functional Gut Diagnostics, talks to us about how the company has developed over the years.

What is the story behind the company?

As a Gastrointestinal (GI) Physiologist, a clinician who specialises in GI function, Dr Anthony Hobson felt that people suffering with GI problems were not getting an accurate or timely diagnosis for their symptoms and was determined to do something about it. He started ‘The Functional Gut Clinic’ in 2014 with the objective of helping people to take control of their gut health.

Our mission is to bring peace of mind to millions by providing fast, accurate diagnosis of GI problems. Working as a medical resource that complements the patient’s GP or consultant, we deliver unrivalled problem-solving at every stage of the gut and digestive system. We do this by combining the very latest diagnostic technology with a team of dedicated specialists in our gut clinic to offer a trusted, proven and reliable service that swiftly identifies the problem; then connects patients with precisely the right treatment to alleviate symptoms or put things right.

What is the size and scale of the company?

The company has about 20 employees spread over three sites; London, Manchester and our latest location in Cambridge. We also run a Functional Gut Clinic satellite clinic in Edinburgh as well as diagnostic tests under contract in half a dozen NHS hospitals across England.

What is your role within the company and what does it entail?

I am the general manager so part of my role is to make sure the company is running as smoothly as possible whilst also looking for new business opportunities. Perhaps most importantly, I make sure that Anthony has the time to pursue his clinical work and R&D projects which he is incredibly passionate about. At any time, we will have a number of R&D projects running, all of which are focused on developing better diagnostic tests for GI patients.

How does the business operate from day to day? 

We specialise in all aspects of GI testing so most of our business relies on referrals from doctors, dieticians and other healthcare professionals. We perform the test on the patient and send the report back to the referrer and the patient. Some of this work is private, payment is from insurance companies or the patients are paying themselves. We also do tests for the NHS under contract at a number of hospitals around the UK. We have one test, Methane CH4ECKTM, which we sell direct to the public. Our target audience is mainly doctors and other health professionals but we do have a social media presence as we want to create awareness amongst potential patients, indeed, many patients have specifically requested they are referred to us. In addition, we have a long-standing relationship to most of our referrers and that suggests they’re happy with the service we provide.

Why did that area of diagnostic testing need improvement?

GI problems are one of the most common reasons for people to visit their GP but it can be very difficult to get to the root of the problem without specialised tests and highly trained staff to interpret the results. Patients with GI problems are often passed around to different doctors but despite their best intentions and probably due to lack of time and resources, they struggle to get an accurate diagnosis and without that they cannot be treated effectively. Anthony realised this back in 2014 and it was the main impetus for him to start The Functional Gut Clinic.

How has your company improved the capability for gut testing over the years?

There are three key innovations we have introduced; Firstly, the idea of having a dedicated GI diagnostic clinic where almost all of the tests are conducted in-house was definitely something new and supports the idea that The Functional Gut Clinic is dedicated to helping people with GI problems find the best solution for them.

Secondly, the use of high-resolution manometry and impedance. Manometry measures the pressure in the gullet (oesophagus) and the high-resolution systems mean much more accurate diagnosis for patients with diseases like achalasia and reflux. Impedance measures the presence of liquid in the gullet and this has been very important in determining whether a patient has low acidic reflux. Whilst Functional Gut were not necessarily the first to use these systems, the expertise of our staff and the quality of our reporting has helped to make this the standard approach in the UK.

Thirdly, breath testing for GI conditions. Again, The Functional Gut Clinic was not the first to offer these tests, but we were the first to offer the tests for use at home with bespoke letter-box friendly packaging with a reply-paid envelope for maximum patient convenience and more recently, patient safety.

What are the biggest challenges for your company?

At the moment, the service we provide is in secondary or tertiary care, most referrals we get are from consultant physicians or surgeons. Ideally, we would like to transition some of that to primary care and get more referrals from GPs. This is a challenge because GPs are extremely busy and it can be difficult to get them to do something different.

How does the company interact with Government?

Our main interaction with the Government is with the NHS where we have contracts to provide diagnostic services. We have also been able to access to some grants to help fund some of our research and we made use of the Government furlough scheme during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

What’s the biggest goal for the company?

 Our most important goal is to help GI patients get an accurate diagnosis and therefore treatment and this will remain at the core of every decision we take in the future. In the long term we would like to get more primary care referrals to patients get access to our expertise earlier in their diagnostic journey.

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