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Cornwall Betting on Health Tech 

posted in: HEALTH Tech, Tech Trends


Region wants to stimulate the local economy and create a sustainable future for health and social care through technology

The national healthcare ecosystem is undergoing a dramatic, fundamental shift with rising healthcare costs, increased demand on systems and growing, ageing populations placing our health and social care systems under unprecedented pressure.

By 2020 the Health Tech market is estimated to hit £37bn Share on X

At the same time, the health tech industry is worth billions and the digital revolution, which has already reshaped many other sectors, is also transforming healthcare. By 2020 its value is estimated to hit around £37bn, with the UK thought to be on course to take a 5% share of that market.

The national healthcare ecosystem is undergoing a fundamental shift Share on X

And while Cornwall might not be the first place that comes to mind as a tech hub, the region is steadily establishing a reputation for enabling innovation in the Health Tech sector. In fact, entrepreneurs vouch for the fact the region is unique in the way that it gives companies the independence and freedom to trial new ideas, making it a test bed for innovative solutions while also allowing those who live there to achieve a good work-life balance.

Nicola Lloyd from Invest in Cornwall says that this mix of entrepreneurship, community and sense of place is already attracting talent and business to the region: “In recent years, we have seen a growing interest in international businesses relocating to Cornwall and we’re delighted to see a strong pipeline ahead. This not only reinforces the strength of opportunities and capabilities for foreign direct investment in the region, but these global companies also generate more local jobs in the wider economy as a result.”

As part of this on-going drive to encourage businesses to consider moving to Cornwall, this month the NHS and other healthcare professional were for the first time brought together with health technology companies at the Maximising Technology in Health and Care event. Held at Falmouth University, the meeting explored technology solutions for healthcare issues in Cornwall and beyond.

“There are very few other places in the country where I’ve seen such a ground swell of local support from the local community, the NHS and businesses,” says Liam Booth-Smith Chief Executive of research think tank Localis. “There is a huge breadth of businesses working in Cornwall that is making creating a sustainable future for health and social care a key part of their mission, and the region’s greatest natural resource is its opportunity with technology”

Although NHS England has said that it is looking to save billions from the health budget by embracing technology, however, the healthcare sector is a system comprised of numerous organisations renowned for being notoriously hard to penetrate – especially for SMEs.

“Within such a large organisation as the NHS, we’re always amazed at the talent, innovative ideas and opportunities proposed to us by some of the smaller players in the tech sector, but we rarely have the chance to meet so many health technology businesses in one place,” agrees Kathy Byrne, Chief Executive of NHS hospital Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust. “The event provided a fantastic opportunity to meet the businesses and entrepreneurs and start those conversations about their products and services that have so often led to improving the healthcare system,” she said.

The recognises that the health technology sector is a growing global market, not only comprising the development of apps and other digital technology tools, but also robotics and other smart devices. However, there is a recognised block to the growth of the sector, namely the willingness and ability of end users and consumers to adopt the solutions on offer, as well as the willingness of commissioners, care givers and consumers to implement and pay for those solutions.

“Our geography means that we have got coterminous health and social care organisations which are partnering with leading institutions such as Falmouth University to look at ways in which we can deliver integrated healthcare in rural, digitally enabled communities to improve outcomes and give people more choice and control,” says Cornwall Council Chief Executive Kate Kennally “We hope to promote the organic growth of partnerships between health technology businesses from across the world and representatives from the NHS, local government and health and care organisations – ensuring the right people are in the right place at the same time,” she believes.

Two early examples of such partnerships are EPIC and Smartline, both of which have recently secured funding within the region and by the European Regional Development Fund. EPIC is a collaborative project designed to improve the use of technology in both health and social care, while Smartline will help Cornish SMEs develop innovative products, processes and services by increasing understanding of how technology can be used to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

Tech Trends Health Tech Cornwall event NHS

Cornwall is aiming to become a test bed for Health Tech innovation Share on X

Smartline brings together an interdisciplinary team of epidemiologists, geographers, mathematicians and sociologists to explore possibilities for innovation using digital technologies, and how they can help connect communities – linking data in novel ways to improve product development in health and wellbeing across a range of sectors.

Professor Ray Jones of Plymouth University says his institution will organise 10 locality groups around Cornwall and identify problems in health and social care that have possible technology solutions. “In turn, EPIC will develop their ideas and help them apply for funding set aside to support individual projects,” he explains.

The project is also recruiting over 350 Coastline households from across the region to become a test bed for products, services and processes that will have wider county, national and even international reach. This involves installing sensors to monitor domestic environments – working with individuals, families and communities to understand their challenges and aspirations. It is hoped this will lead to a well-developed and flexible supply chain and high value jobs through new engagements between businesses and the knowledge base.

Connecting communities to help individuals take back control of their health and wellbeing Share on X

Creative England will also work with the digital and technology sector supporting them to enter the health and social care market, identifying new products or services that can be supplied from Cornwall locally as well as to the rest of the UK and beyond.

“Our objective is connecting communities to help individuals take back control of their health and wellbeing. Cornwall has been the perfect starting point for this project as the infrastructure, talent, necessary resources and general sense of community already exists,” says Dr Tim Taylor, Senior Lecturer in the University of Exeter Medical School and Smartline Principal Investigator. “This helps to ensure that we are in the best place possible to organically develop the eHealth and eWellbeing market in the region by linking innovation to cutting edge research and working closely with Cornish SMEs to support R&D in this field,” he concluded.

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Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedInand follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.