Our Entrepreneurs: Simon Toh

Meet #OurEntrepreneurs. Introducing Professor Simon Toh, Senior Consultant Surgeon and Professor of Surgery at the University of Portsmouth.

Tell us a bit about yourself 

I am a Senior Consultant Upper GI Surgeon at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust and Professor of Surgery at the University of Portsmouth. I have surgical expertise in keyhole and robotic surgery and co-led a campaign raised over £3.4 million through our Rocky Appeal charity to create the leading multi-specialty minimal access robotic surgical centre in UK.

Name: Professor Simon Toh NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Cohort 6

Occupation: Senior Consultant Surgeon and Professor of Surgery at the University of Portsmouth

I co-founded Victory Institute for Minimal Access & Robotic Surgery to deliver surgical simulation training. and am a active researcher supervising MRes, MD, PhD and Post-doc fellows with over 100 publications with interest in big data studies, risk prediction, patient informatics, endoscopic imaging and surgical instrument design.

I am on the board of SIGHT Programme, University of Portsmouth, which supports over 300 Medtech firms to help evaluate and bring products to market. I’m also a founding partner of Solent Specialist Surgical Partnership LLP providing NHS Consultants to ISTC Providers.

Why did you apply to the programme and what are you looking forward to? 

I was frustrated that I had no support from my NHS Trust to develop and improve care using innovation I developed. I found out about CEP from your previous alumni and I thought this might help me develop my App and to upscale it throughout the NHS. I needed to learn how to start a social enterprise business and how to access mentors and investors to bring my product to market.

I’m looking forward to launching my company, getting investors to develop the App, grants to continually test and improve it and getting my first customer within a year. Also getting to know other clinical entrepreneurs to encourage one another in our ventures and maybe work together too.

Tell us about your innovation  

In 2016, a patient of mine on whom I performed a successful curative oesophagectomy for cancer died 20 days after surgery at home from a pulmonary embolus because she did not comply with the recommended prophylaxis of wearing stockings and injecting heparin to prevent this.

It was clear that current paper and verbal advice was not enough, and an audit suggested up to 70% of our patients did not complete their prophylaxis. In the UK, this translates to 25,000 deaths per year from Deep Vein Thrombosis ( DVT), of which 20,000 are preventable. I was also a co-investigator at the time on one of the largest studies of post-operative DVT prophylaxis at that time, the GAPS trial, and was involved with the All-Party Parliamentary Thrombosis Group which has raise awareness of this problem and improved risk assessment and proper prophylaxis in hospital.

However, as most patients are discharged early now, we need to encourage them to continue with prophylaxis at home. I therefore conceived VELMA our video-animation series in 2016 to do just that and won a Patient Safety-Up Award to script/record/edit these with a team from University of Portsmouth. These went on to win the 2017 National Anticoagulation Achievement Awards for ‘Best Work in the Prevention of Hospital-Acquired Thrombosis”.

The next idea I had was to then develop an App to place on patient’s phones on discharge to improve compliance using Siri/Alexa and nudge methodology. I brought this concept to the Ingenuity Impact Programme (University of Nottingham) during lockdown in 2021 – this intensive business development programme led to my proposed Social Enterprise, Velma Healthcare CIC, which will develop and deliver this App to the NHS and private sector healthcare market to save as many lives as possible. This programme was competitive and a final 20 entrepreneurs were selected in an intensive round of ‘Dragon’s Den’ pitches and interviews. I went on to win 3 of the awards: South Coast Champion first place prize, Health Challenge National Champion, and Regional Legal Prize from Shakespeare Martineau. This has provided me business know-how, investment, a valuable mentor (Lars Hagelmann, Big Issue) and legal advice.

What motivates you? 

A combination of a restless open mindset, always wanting to improve and innovate using the latest tech, winning awards, working outside my comfort zone and seeing my patients benefit from my innovation.

 I am drawn to a Social Enterprise model as I already have experience of an Ltd, LLP and charity, and believe that this business structure is best to deliver this App in a socially responsible way as we hope to support the digitally excluded from our profits.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

We are aiming to launch Velma Healthcare CIC, develop our App and secure our first customer.

How can we find out more?

Please contact me on LinkedIn or visit the Ingenuity website to find out more about Velma


Published by Lucy Dentice

Deputy Programme Manager for the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme.