2024 : Celebrating 20 Years of Saebo UK and our SaeboFlex

Glyn Blakey
Monday, January 8th, 2024

Saebo UK and our SaeboFlex celebrate 20 years in the UK this year. This is our story of how it all started and the journey that the Saebo UK team have made…..

When we started in 2004, Constraint Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) was the go to treatment for chronic stroke survivors, (i.e. at least 6 months post stroke). Saebo clinics were run based on the CIMT protocols with one to one supervision/assistance, but adapted for those unable to grasp and release by incorporating our SaeboFlex. The SaeboFlex was used for at least 3 hours a day, with the SaeboStretch as a night time resting splint and a session of electrical stimulation thrown in. After every SaeboFlex session, the stroke survivor was asked to attempt every day activities without the splint. This was 20 years ago and revolutionary at the time. Today, the literature is full of modified CIMT protocols to enable more people to follow this outside of the original very strict protocol.

We had visiting clinicians from all over the UK to the intensive sessions wanting to learn more about this new technology. The SaeboFlex units in 2004 were custom made for the individual stroke survivor. As soon as we had initial NHS interest, their first question was “could we make a reusable kit version of the SaeboFlex?” Of course we could! The OCE in Oxford purchased the first SaeboFlex Treatment Kit in 2004 and there are now nearly 200 NHS teams with some sort of size SaeboFlex Treatment kit. The arrival of the kit at the OCE even made the news at the time!

To get more clinicians interested and knowledgeable in the SaeboFlex, a two day physical teaching course was introduced in the UK. This involved huge logistics, pallet deliveries across the UK from our base in Welwyn Garden City, and our Clinical Specialists travelling up and down the country. The pallet contained SaeboFlex kits allowed therapists, mainly Physio’s in the early days (but now thankfully a healthy mix of O.T’s are trained), to build a SaeboFlex from scratch, fit it onto a stroke survivor volunteer and get them actively grasping and releasing poof balls. The courses were exhausting, exciting and great fun.

The well tuned logistics only stumbled at one memorable venue, when Palletline delivered a pallet full of Christmas decorations. The superstore wanting those decorations must have smiled when they opened the SaeboFlex training boxes…..

International SaeboFlex training also kept the team busy. Trips to Germany, Poland, Holland, Australia and Greece are a few memorable places where we helped train new Saebo distributors. Dresden, where the restaurant used for training stood out as as the most surreal, with Koi Carp and Goldfish swimming around the therapists building SaeboFlex units. We met many inspirational and forward thinking therapists along the way including the founders of the StrokeEd team in Sydney, and again in London.

The physical training course for the SaeboFlex lasted over 10 years, but it was gradually phased out due to a number of factors; the predominant reason being the introduction of the SaeboGlove. The SaeboGlove needs minimal training, and replaced the SaeboFlex for the acute stroke hand that only needed a soft orthosis to practice grasp and release and every day tasks.

The team expanded in 2009 adding an Office Manager, Sarah, and a Clinical Specialist, Amy, to cope with the demand for our orthotics and growing product range which now included electrical stimulation devices the SaeboStim One and SaeboStim Pro. Being a small team, each role is very varied and the ability to adapt to any scenario is needed. Our Office manager over the years has received and dealt with the arrival of an NHS ward toaster, box of ceiling tiles, prosthetic leg and racing jackets. All items were successfully exchanged for the originally intended Saebo product. 

The SaeboFlex training programme was modified as training needs changes, and then a big leap was made to go fully online video in 2017. Online technology advances were the key to Saebo UK expanding within the UK and being able to offer the same level of training and support. 

There still is a need for the SaeboFlex, but it has now made its way into the Science Museum in London via the Headway Charity, one of many charities Saebo has worked with over the last 20 years. You can find it in the Medicine Galleries as part of their Medical Firsts exhibition.

Covid struck in March 2020 changing everything, and the traditional traveling sales model disappeared overnight. The days of our Clinical Specialist traversing along the UK’s rail network and becoming an expert in locating the hospitals League of Friends cafeteria for cake have ended. Saebo UK adapted all the traditional physical ‘in-service’ training skills into an online package. Using the open accessibility of YouTube, social media, video calls and sending videos/photos for advice through WhatsApp has enabled us to continue to serve our customers but more importantly for us it has made our products much more accessible to those that need and want them.

We have always strived to follow the evidence base for neurological rehabilitation. The newest 2023 National Clinical Guidelines for Stroke state:

“People with motor recovery goals undergoing rehabilitation after a stroke should receive a minimum of 3 hours of multidisciplinary therapy a day (delivered or supervised by a therapist or rehabilitation assistant focused on exercise, motor retraining and/or functional practice), at least 5 days out of 7, to enable the range of required interventions to be delivered at an effective dose.”

Utilising the right technology enables therapists and stroke survivors to meet these guidelines.

20 years ago the market was for a large SaeboFlex kit to cater for acute and chronic stroke rehab services. Today, with advances in earlier rehabilitation and community teams, the SaeboFlex kits have shrunk and been combined with SaeboGlove kits, electrical stimulation (NMES) units and Mobile Arm Supports. A good package to get most people grasping and releasing with their affected hand. 

And so what is in store for Saebo UK in the future? Exciting new research to be published on our SaeboGlove by an NHS team, further establishment as an electrical stimulation supplier, addition of a new office assistant, growing partnership with our supplier in Ireland, Lyncare, and much more ….so watch this space!

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