A finger on the pulse of change Innovation and technology surround us and are part of our everyday lives, in sickness and in health. And with huge demands on the NHS and its workforce – before and after the coronavirus crisis – digital solutions in healthcare have become increasingly important. In the North East, collaboration is driving such tech innovation in the health and social care sector. And as Colin Young discovers, through conversation with Hermina Ely, Dynamo North East’s innovation manager for the health and social care tech cluster, those relationships will be essential to cope with the current pressures, and ensure the sector will be able to survive in the long-term.
Ours is a region long known for its innovative ways. And as the health and social care industry continues to battle back following the hugely challenging pandemic, those pioneering roots are once again propagating new products and services. Here, Colin Young takes a look at existing work, and new developments that are ensuring the region remains in good health.
Collaboration among businesses in the North East is aiming to save lives and save money.
Across the region, scientists and researchers are developing new products and devices, which will transform the way we all live and age.
One such example of cross-sector innovation is a wearable ‘ring’, created by Affotek, which was shortlisted for this year’s SuperNetwork’s North East Innovation Awards at VentureFest North East.
Hermina Ely, Dynamo North East’s innovation manager for the health and social care tech cluster, says the capabilities of the health monitor have been extended to allow for the passive measurement of carbon monoxide levels in the home.
She says: “It came through a workshop event run by the Innovation SuperNetwork, where a complementary value was identified that prompted support from the energy sector to prototype and further develop a device that had originally started life as a medical innovation.”
Another example of a potential game-changer for GP services comes from THERAPYAUDIT, which has developed beetroot, an established digital health platform with secondary and primary care NHS customers.
It will provide digital support for monitoring, tracking and patient-initiated follow up of people on potentially toxic drugs, and a digital record and monitoring for those suffering from cancer.
The beetroot CHECK&FILE module, for automatic filing of normal results in primary care, saves GPs valuable time and the NHS more than £200 million per year.
The Academic Health Science Network North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) is supporting the company (through its NOTCA health and tech programme) to develop, spread and adopt its technology at a national scale.
Elsewhere, Newcastle-based Multi-Lab – which originally worked with Durham University in the 1980s to help researchers realise their designs and ideas for ongoing experiments in crystal growth – has worked with NETPark-based Kromek, to aid the design of futuristic technologies for crystal growth.
Dr Arnab Basu, chief executive at Kromek, whose technology has long been used to diagnose and treat health conditions including osteoporosis, says: “We export to more than 50 countries and have nearly 200 furnaces operating in the production of cadmium zinc telluride (CZT).
“It has taken years of research, fine-tuning and close collaboration between the companies to deliver the very high-specification, high-quality quartz ware used in the crystal growth process at Kromek at very high temperatures over many days.
“The CZT grown is the main component in the next generation of medical detection equipment, enabling better detection of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s,” adds Dr Basu of Kromek, which was formerly known as Durham Scientific Crystals and spun out from Durham University nearly 20 years ago.
Dynamo North East’s health and social care tech cluster is made up of businesses and stakeholders working across the health and social care, life sciences and digital spectrum.
Sponsored by CGI, it is part-funded to deliver innovation support through the Innovation SuperNetwork’s Catalysing Innovation in the North East Clusters project, and part-funded by ERDF.
Dynamo works closely with AHSN NENC and Health Network North to explore innovations that address unmet healthcare needs within the NHS, social care and community services.
A new Digital Pioneers programme, which is targeted at optometry, general practice, dentistry and pharmacy, aims to provide better access to digital care and services, where patients can easily access the advice, support and treatment they need using digital and online tools.
Hermina says: “With huge pressure on the health system and its workforce now, more than ever, the sector is looking to digital solutions to help find efficiencies, reduce waste and improve the quality of, and access to, care for patients.
“Ideally placed between industry and the NHS, academia, local authorities and the voluntary sector, we are able to encourage conversations and inspire collaboration and partnerships.
“The challenges faced are vast, varied, and no one sector, nor stakeholder, can address them alone.
“This is why it is so crucial we maximise on opportunities to work collaboratively across sector boundaries.
“The ability for our clusters and innovation managers to bring together people from different areas of work – digital, health and life sciences, academia, the NHS, local authorities, the voluntary sector and essential infrastructure – to facilitate discussions and encourage new collaborations is a unique and exciting opportunity.
“And yet there is still a long way to go with addressing health inequalities for the most vulnerable in society.
“Regionally, each local authority and NHS acute trust has working groups developing strategies for digital transformation at all levels of health and care.
“In turn, they, along with infrastructure providers, are looking for opportunities to balance inequalities of service provision – be that digital poverty and health inequalities in our cities to the challenges of connectivity and access to care services in our more rural areas.”
The emergence of an integrated care system will drive a cohesive programme of change.
It will not be a quick nor painless process, however, but there is a clear and very positive mood of co-operation across the regional bodies and trusts.
Hermina says the various programmes of grant funding at play, through the ‘levelling-up’ agenda, the North of Tyne Combined Authority, the NHS and AHSN NENC digital transformation programmes allow Dynamo to highlight and support opportunities for positive change and ‘tech for good’.
She adds: “To drive the development and adoption of innovation across NHS primary care services, the AHSN NENC has introduced a new programme that will help foster a digitally skilled workforce and encourage innovation within the NHS.
“The pandemic has seen primary care embracing new technologies – online and video consultations, optimisation of electronic prescribing tools, patient information videos, mental health support apps – demonstrating not only a need for digital innovation but also a want, by both patients and NHS staff.
“Through the health and care tech cluster, we are looking to strengthen the integration of our region’s digital expertise into health provision, research and training, both regionally and nationally, and even globally.
Additionally, the Innovation SuperNetwork’s ERDF-funded innovation cluster network and UK-wide reaching partnership brings together the AHSN NENC, NEPIC, CPI, BioNow, Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East and other organisations, to create a broad ecosystem of expertise to support businesses and stakeholders in this sector.”
Health and social care tech cluster innovation manager Dynamo North East
“The ability for our clusters and innovation managers to bring together people from different areas of work – digital, health and life sciences, academia, the NHS, local authorities, the voluntary sector and essential infrastructure – to facilitate discussions and encourage new collaborations is a unique and exciting opportunity.”
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