David Kidney

BLOG: January 2023

David Kidney’s blog:
Health Technologies and the common good

David Kidney

Health is deeply personal. It affects every person, and it affects us all in different ways. There is no one secret to a healthy life, and there is no one treatment to cure sickness.

But what we do know about human health, and wellbeing, is that health technologies provide tools to help us be healthy, prevent sickness, and keep hospitals stays as short as safely possible.

Here in the West Midlands, there are businesses, universities and others working earnestly to develop health technologies which are genuinely useful. They may do so for multiple reasons, but they all have one motivation in common – a desire to improve the lives of individuals and communities.

Take medical devices. Our region has a long and distinguished history of supplying devices that support people in their daily lives. In the case of Salts Healthcare, it is one of the UK’s oldest family-run manufacturing companies, based in Aston, Birmingham, providing stoma care products and ostomy supplies.

At the other end of the scale, the cluster is helping a former athlete whose mobility was catastrophically limited by the onset of MS and is working on a step-change in accessible mobility for a wide range of potential users. He may turn a profit yes, but he may also improve his and many other people’s quality of life.

There are over 100 medical devices businesses that we know about in the West Midlands. With the right support, I am sure this number will grow.

Diagnostics can hugely impact on people’s lives. When clinicians know what the problem is, they can devise the best way to treat it. Early diagnosis makes a cure and a complete recovery more likely. Catching a condition early may allow doctors to prevent it from ever becoming life threatening. And the shorter the journey from diagnosis to treatment to recovery, the better the outcome for  the patient in terms of health and wellbeing and life years free from disability.

We have remarkable diagnostics businesses, supported by amazing R&D in our region’s universities, in the West Midlands. From large companies The Binding Site – itself a spin out originally from University of Birmingham –  to SMEs lie Zimmer Peacock in Warwickshire and micros like Linear Diagnostics with incubator support at the Bio Hub at Birmingham Research Park.

In a mini cluster pilot, we brought together 60 businesses interested in growing the diagnostics industry in our region. The enthusiasm of participants convinces me that there is massive potential for growth here. As the response to the Covid pandemic demonstrated, there is scope to extend the application of diagnostic testing and to spread access to them. West Midlands businesses can support people testing for a wider range of conditions and testing at home and at community diagnostics centres in addition to testing at hospitals. In fact, the more we can increase access to testing outside hospitals, the more we can help take pressure off finite testing facilities in hospitals.

Digital health is very much a growth area of activity for health technologies and for individuals and communities. There are exciting prospects for easing pressure on hospitals through remote monitoring and support for patients – reducing the need for hospital admissions and increasing the ability to discharge patients safely from hospital.

There is intense interest in these developments, with a new shorthand phrase of “virtual wards” representing the wide range of applications of digital health technologies. One of the most prolific adoptions of a “virtual wards” approach I am aware of is in Leicester in the East Midlands. However, closer to home, the company SCC has developed with South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust a digital innovation hub capable of rolling out digital health solutions to suit clinicians and patients alike.

All these approaches – devices, diagnostics and digital health – are underpinned by data. Slowly, our nation’s health services are catching up with other sectors in gathering, securely storing and utilising the information from patients and services in usable digital formats. Harnessing this data can unlock enormous progress in furtherance of helping everyone live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Analysis of data can help us identify where there is the greatest need for clinical interventions, what unmet needs are currently being missed and help us predict where the future needs will arise. Data supports clinical trials and regulatory decision-making. Data can support better policy-making and spending decisions.

Taken together, data, devices, diagnostics and digital health (the four Ds which best describe the health technologies sector in the West Midlands) provide fertile ground for investment, public and private. The businesses active in our region in this area are ripe for growth and creating more good quality jobs. Their products and services will meet our society’s ambition for improving the health and wellbeing of every individual.

There is a happy coincidence between a strong and healthy health technologies sector and a strong and healthy population. By supporting one, we support the other. Our public and our businesses benefit. These are the outcomes we work for every day at the cluster – and we enjoy great support for the work we do because stakeholders can see that ultimately, it all for the common good.