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A world of health technology on our doorstep

28 September 2017 | Amanda White

Reflecting on recent national announcements on creating a digital NHS, Amanda White, Head of Communications at UCLPartners, highlights how we’re supporting a culture that’s ready to adopt new ways of working. 

Digital health is the phrase of the moment for the NHS.  In the space of just a month we’ve had a report to government from the life sciences sector highlighting a need for digital tools and data connectivity.  Simon Stevens announced his support for the proposed digital innovation hubs and praised our partners for embracing machine learning and AI.  In turn, the Secretary of State for Health set out eight challenges for NHS England to empower patients through use of technology and acknowledged the hospitals selected to fast track innovation through the Global Digital Exemplars scheme.

This is both reassuring and affirming as the NHS is a long way from delivering a digitally-enabled service that its users already embrace in how they, bank, shop and travel.  We should not be complacent that the advances made in other sectors will be replicated in health and care.  At UCLPartners we’re doing something about it.

We now have a national commitment, drive and, most importantly, a financial commitment both from NHS England and the government to support this long-awaited change in healthcare.  The country’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks – of which UCLPartners is one – will continue to receive funding to support innovation for the next five years.  We also have some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs and the world’s best health technology on our doorstep.

At UCLPartners we’re supporting this in many ways.  We work locally with our colleagues across primary care, hospitals, mental health services, social care and with patient groups to help identify a need for change and then to create the cultural conditions to ensure that new ways of working will be adopted successfully.   We’re inspired every single day by the creativity, expertise and determination of the people working within the system who are dedicated to finding the very best ways to improve the lives of their patients.

There are some truly remarkable examples.  Researchers and clinicians at Moorfields Eye Hospital are working with DeepMind to use machine learning to analyse over one million eye scans.  The results are not yet published, but early indications are that AI is likely to lead to earlier detection of common eye conditions.   At the Royal Free, an augmented reality platform called Proximie is being used to treat patients with complex surgical problems across the world while also training health professionals.

We are a founding partner of DigitalHealth.London, which matches innovators with NHS demand and supports them to navigate the UK health environment. This is helping to establish the capital as a marketplace where digital health solutions are traded, and creates a favourable place for industry to do business in.  This month, DigitalHealth.London announced the 30 digital health SMEs joining its accelerator.

UCLPartners also has a national role as the host the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA).  Working with NHS England and the other AHSNs, each year the NIA takes the best innovations (including digital) from across the world and, through a fellowship programme, helps create the conditions and cultural change needed for proven innovations to adopted fasted and more systematically through the NHS.  By July this year, this had enabled an extra 711 NHS organisations to adopt new ways of working and secured £31 million funding for the 26 innovations.

Exciting times.  With this breadth of expertise on our doorstep, UCLPartners is leading the way in tracking advances in health technology, advising our partners and SMEs, influencing policy and helping to create a culture that’s ready for this new era.  It’s inevitable that digital health will change the NHS and how people manage their own health and stay well. We hope to remain at the leading edge of this change.