My Week: Penny Streeter of Ambition24Hours

The nursing agency entrepreneur flies into London to plot her US expansion - and house-hunt...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I arrive in London on Saturday from Cape Town, where our South African business is headquartered, for the launch of two new agencies: Nursing Services of the UK and Locum Services of the UK. We are running them as separate operations in the UK, under the umbrella A24 Group, to compete with our existing medical staffing brand, Ambition 24hours.

I travel regularly between the UK and South Africa. It’s a 12 hour flight; I usually leave on a Friday night so I’m ready for work on Monday morning. Our agencies over there have grown massively since we opened up in Cape Town in 2004. Nursing Services of South Africa was a competitor that we bought; it’s the oldest in the country, founded in 1943. We’ve run it in competition with Ambition 24hours, which remains the premium ‘last minute’ provider (we often supply temporary medical staff in under an hour).

On Tuesday I am house-hunting in London. I’m only here for a week and then flying to Washington DC for a three-day conference, as we are planning a major expansion into the USA. I thrive on new challenges – I started Ambition 24hours nursing agency in 1996 with no money or staff, just my mother Marion and me. It was the first 24-hour service agency in the medical staffing sector – a revolutionary idea in the UK market in the mid-1990s, when our competitors used to close at 5:30pm and all weekend. We took our model to South Africa, and have now identified similar opportunities in the USA.

I meet with our UK compliance managers on Wednesday, as we’ve just received approval from the UK Care Standards authority. Full compliance with care standards is essential to our business and we’re continually recruiting and training new compliance staff. It is a major challenge. We find and manage many thousands of locum doctors, nurses and carers and are very conscious of our responsibility to our ultimate clients, the patients themselves.

Thursday brings meetings with our UK regional managers. We have a flat management structure, so I’m available constantly to my directors and managers. Later in the day there’s an IT meeting – we’ve been investing massively in recruiting ICT staff and developing our own software. This has given us a big advantage in speed and accuracy in the registration, management and booking of temporary medics with GP surgeries, hospitals, care homes, prisons and other clients. We built the online system with special safeguards. For example, when the annual training certificate of a locum doctor expires, there is an automatic email notification to the locum, and a block on selection for shifts until proof of compliance is supplied to us.

It’s Friday and I’m visiting the property I’ve found in London to meet the builders. Then I am going back to our Sutton office to start getting ready for the flight to the USA tomorrow. I won’t see three of my four children for over a week, because they’re at school, but my eldest, Adam, works for me and is in the USA to research the market. Hopefully I can meet up with him next week!

Penny Streeter OBE is founder and managing director of medical staffing agency The A24 Group, operating in the UK and South Africa. She was CBI Entrepreneur of the Year, 2003, and received an OBE in 2006 for ‘services to enterprise’. This year the A24 Group will have a turnover of £70m, supplying agency locums, nurses and care assistants.

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