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Guest Blog: Advancing healthtech innovation

Written by: Rob Webster - 23rd September 2019

Advancing healthtech innovation means working together to deliver for the economy and for patients.

Rob WebsterLast month (August), we were delighted to announce a new cross-sector agreement for the Leeds City Region to help deliver the benefits of healthtech innovation. These are substantial, with potential for around £1bn of economic benefit and £1bn of system efficiencies for our health and care system.

It’s the first agreement of its kind, involving an ‘integrated care system’ like West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership. This means we’ll be working very closely with industry, universities and the regional enterprise partnership to realise the huge potential healthtech presents.

As Chief Executive of South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and CEO Lead for West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, I can see the benefits that this collaboration will bring for people, patients, staff and our health and care system. It makes real the possibilities of delivering something I have personally wanted to see for a decade.

Whether you believe we’re now in the third or the fourth industrial revolution, there is no doubt that the development of digital technologies, smartphones and new technological applications is happening faster than ever. This is true in our everyday lives and with it comes a whole new world of possibilities for us all, whether you work in health and care or not.

The Government has recognised that our region already has world-leading excellence in healthtech.

It’s an exciting place to work.

Delivering the benefits of technology can also be challenging. For the health and care workforce and for citizens, it means understanding a whole new language and developing new skills, as highlighted in the recent Topol Review.

And it means collaborating in completely new ways, simplifying complex NHS and council structures and getting to grips with areas completely new to many.

The new Leeds City Region healthtech agreement, coordinated by Leeds Academic Health Partnership, is between our West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership, the Association of British Healthtech Industries, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and five universities (University of Bradford, University of Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett University, University of Leeds and University of York).

As an all-encompassing term, healthtech includes medical technologies such as devices, implants and surgical robots, as well as digital health technology, such as the apps we use on our smartphones. The market trend increasingly is for these technologies to come together, for example, devices also having a supporting app.

Growing and ageing populations, the rise in levels of obesity and chronic illness, an increasingly ‘digital-savvy’ population, and a rising demand for medical devices are all driving the growth of these technologies.

Our Health and Care Partnership is the third largest integrated care system in the country. Collectively, we are responsible for £5.5bn annual healthcare budgets for the 2.6m people across our area.

We are already collaborating closely across 10 NHS trusts, nine clinical commissioning groups, 56 primary care networks, eight local councils and thousands of independent and voluntary sector organisations to keep people healthier and independent in their homes and communities, and to make sure we’re spending those budgets in the most effective ways.

We are already seeing improvements in cancer care, mental health services, support for carers and stroke services. Our big challenges remain tackling health inequalities, reducing variations in care and delivering significant financial efficiencies. So we focus our West Yorkshire and Harrogate work on things that will make the biggest difference in all our local places. You can find out more about the positive difference our Partnership is making here.

The new healthtech agreement builds on this approach. The collective expertise of our new partners will enable us to find which of our challenges can be most efficiently and effectively solved with health technologies. Critically, we’ll work together to speed up testing, proving, adoption and spread of those solutions.

It’s wrong, for example, that where you live can determine how long and how well you live. And we know that something such as the house you live in or having a decent job can have a huge effect on your wellbeing.

This new healthtech agreement will attract investment which strengthens and grows our regional economy. In turn, that’s likely to mean more skills and jobs for people in our communities.

We might now finally be seeing a set of arrangements that do two things: make the health and care system easier to navigate for people, innovators and industry; and see the NHS and public services visibly embracing the technology that shapes the rest of our lives.

I’m proud that we are part of this new agreement as a really important next step to harness the potential that exists in our region and help people live healthier lives for longer.

This article originally featured in the print edition of National Health Executive.

Written by: Rob Webster, Chief Executive of South West Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust and CEO Lead for West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership