10 June 2015

Two years ago, the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) took its first steps into China.

“We had the support of state and federal governments who both invited us to join various trade missions,” says Dan Woods, Executive General Manager – Brand and Business Development at RDNS. “This gave us a privileged opportunity to explain our offering to the health representatives of various governments and ministries. From there, we started getting requests for help.”

Founded in 1885, the RDNS is Australia’s oldest and largest provider of community healthcare with experience across a wide range of services.

“We can provide end-to-end consultancy in seniors’ living environments from planning and feasibility studies to helping a partner or contractor set up the operations,” says Woods. “We also offer a wide range of education and training products that are applicable to the aged care market. In China, we have been developing bespoke education and training modules and courses to help everyone from front line workers to management and the board to run to aged care living successfully.”

One of their early successes was a joint venture with Zhongshan College in Nanjing.

“This has been up and running for almost 18 months,” says Woods. “We are helping them to develop and roll out a 1500 bed aged care living facility with a 400 bed hospital and links to the college’s education faculty. The release of 100 independent living units marked the end of stage one and we’re now completing preparations for a similar second stage.”

Woods says that many of the seeds planted over the past two or three years are now starting to germinate.

“Without taking anything for granted, we’re very comfortable with being in China,” he continues. “We now have a constant presence there with dedicated staff on the ground so, from our point of view, it’s no longer a remote operation.”

The scale of their success was acknowledged last year when they won the Best Home Care Operator category in the Asia Pacific Eldercare Innovation Awards 2015 in Singapore.

Immense opportunity

China represents an immense potential market for Australian healthcare providers.

“In aged care alone the figures are staggering,” says Woods. “The Chinese government is predicting that there will be nearly half a billion people over the age of 60 by the year 2050.”

The recent China-Australia Free Trade Agreement has also created unprecedented opportunities by permitting Australian-owned hospitals and aged care facilities to be established in China. But, as Woods points out, a move into China is still a demanding process.

“You need to be well prepared and under no illusions as to what that journey is going to look like,” he says. “We were always very committed to a course of persevering, being patient and accepting that there would be disappointments along the way. It really was an exercise in learning about China and working hard to make the right connections so that we could understand more of their needs.”

It’s also vital that Australian companies honour and respect the Chinese culture, ethos and way of doing business.

“The last thing we have attempted to do is Australianise the operations with which we’re involved,” says Woods. “Our approach is to take standards that are desirable and applicable and contextualise them to the Chinese environment.”

Positive change

Despite having a very commercial orientation, the RDNS is still driven by a mission to help people age with dignity and independence in the place of their choice.

“We could certainly see commercial opportunities in China,” says Woods. “But, more importantly, we recognised that the many parallels between aged care in China and Australia meant that we had potential to make a positive difference.”

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