Bradford at forefront of digital health innovation

Partnership wins government funding to create University Enterprise Zone in digital health innovation

A partnership bid led by the University of Bradford has won £3.8m from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) to help establish a University Enterprise Zone in digital health innovation – one of only four bids to be selected for funding across the UK.

The successful bid brings together the University of Bradford, BT, the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, and NHS organisations including the three Bradford NHS trusts - Airedale, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Bradford District Care - to cement the Leeds city region as a UK hotbed for digital health innovation. Additional funding of some £8.3m from the partners brings the total funding for the initiative to over £12m.

We see communications-enabled healthcare as an opportunity to transform the way we deliver care, improving the lives of patients

For BIS, the aim of University Enterprise Zones is to encourage universities to strengthen their roles as strategic partners in local economic growth through leadership in innovation and skills. The zones, which cover a range of industry sectors, are intended to develop incubator and ‘grow-on’ space for knowledge-intensive businesses in locations that encourage them to interact and innovate with universities in a sustainable way. BIS invited eight city regions to compete for funding through the pilot programme.

The first phase of the Digital Health Zone will see the creation of two complementary innovation spaces in the centre of Bradford over the next three years.

The xouncil-owned Design Exchange building in the Little Germany area will be upgraded to create the Digital Exchange, a business incubator to bring small and young companies together in an open innovation environment. Scheduled to open in early 2015, the exchange will house companies that focus on information and communications technology, with onsite practical support available from BT researchers, university academics and the council’s business support team.

Nearby, a new £7m health and wellbeing centre will be built on the University of Bradford campus. This will be used both as a community amenity - housing practising health professionals such as doctors, opticians and dispensing pharmacists - and for tenant organisations to test out healthcare delivery innovations. Teams of researchers and students will work with the patients, healthcare professionals and the companies at the Digital Exchange to trial and monitor new devices, services and ways of working to see which are the most effective and affordable.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Professor Brian Cantor CBE, said: “As a world-leading technology university, Bradford is ideally suited to this initiative. The Digital Health Zone will enable companies developing new healthcare products and services to connect with Bradford’s outstanding capabilities in healthcare systems research, practice-based medicine and information and communications technology.”

Dr Liam Sutton, the university’s head of knowledge transfer, who compiled the bid, added: “We’ll also be looking to open up new trading markets for Digital Health Zone companies through our extensive international links, especially with China. Add in access to BT’s technology, commercial mentoring and market power, and the case for companies in this sector to set up and grow in Leeds city region will be compelling. We expect Digital Health Zone companies to create more than 2,000 jobs over the next 10 years.”

And academic lead, Mohammed A Mohammed, professor of healthcare, quality and effectiveness at the University of Bradford, said: “Ageing society, increasing chronic diseases, smaller budgets and how to deliver personalised healthcare are global challenges and we see this initiative as a major opportunity for the UK to lead on communications-enabled digital healthcare. Digital healthcare enables self care, remote monitoring of patients, personalised care, remote access to expert clinical advice, and the ability to share clinical networks across geographies. The innovations developed here could enhance the quality of life for millions of people and we can ensure that these are safe, ethical and cost-effective.”

The Digital Health Zone will enable companies developing new healthcare products and services to connect with Bradford’s outstanding capabilities in healthcare systems research, practice-based medicine and information and communications technology

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust has been leading on digital health services such as telemedicine for the last eight years, initially providing both emergency and routine consultations to patients in prisons around the country. The ‘Telehealth Hub’, based at Airedale Hospital, now provides immediate face-to-face support 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, to more than 120 nursing and residential care homes and 80 patients in their own homes. Results to date show that hospital admissions have reduced by 35% and attendances at A&E have reduced by 53% when compared to care homes without access to telemedicine.

David Furniss, vice president of propositions and frameworks, government and health at BT Global Services, said: “As an organisation that believes in the power of communications, it was a natural fit for us to be involved in this initiative. We see communications-enabled healthcare as an opportunity to transform the way we deliver care, improving the lives of patients.”

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