More than 200 delegates gathered at the NEC and University Hospitals Birmingham to discuss and debate the challenges and opportunities for the healthcare sector as key drivers for wealth creation and economic growth in the West Midlands – tackling thorny issues including NHS collaboration and regional investment and promotion.
These longstanding issues were given an open and honest airing, as politicians, clinicians, commissioners, academics, LEPs and industry sat side by side to discuss how services, attitudes and relationships must change over the next five years.
Invited by the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN), the two day summit featured a diverse line-up of speakers, selected for their expertise, influence and opinions. On the first day at the NEC, topics centred on innovation, investment and productivity, while day two reached out to EU funding, working with LEPs and job creation.
WMAHSN’s commercial director Tony Davis commented: “It’s clear that our country needs a 21st century healthcare system, which will stimulate the next generation of science and healthcare jobs.
“We have a unique opportunity in the West Midlands to ensure these jobs are created here, and that our population benefits from the most progressive care and treatments. This summit was a chance for us all to ask some hard questions. Can we overcome the obstacles? Who can drive it forward? And can ingrained opinions and attitudes within the science and healthcare sector change fast enough? As the regional academic health science network, we have heard at the summit how vital our role is in answering these questions.”
That role was highlighted by George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, who set out just how much was needed from government and from grass roots to nurture a 21st century healthcare system and culture. Outlining the support available from the Department for Health (DH) and Department for Business Innovations and Skills (BIS) and the remit of the AHSNs to improve population health and generate economic growth, he emphasised that this commitment to healthcare, not just pharma, stems from the very centre of government.
Freeman officially launched the WMAHSN’s seven point growth plan, which addresses the direct and indirect links between health and wealth. He commended the WMAHSN’s commitment to work to ensure that the region is viewed as a centre of healthcare excellence which can attract investment and research, develop a highly skilled and productive workforce and transform healthcare procurement.
These were themes that gathered momentum throughout the first day of the summit. Professor Theo Arvanitis, of the University of Warwick’s Institute of Digital Healthcare, revealed details of collaborative projects with Birmingham Childrens’ Hospital NHS Foundation Trust which embody healthcare excellence, using big data, organising trials in a better way and utilising everyday technologies and devices. He explained: “We have worked with Birmingham Children’s Hospital to take a data driven approach to childhood cancer and used an off-the-shelf games system to measure respiratory motion. There can, and should be, more of this in the West Midlands.”
The role of the West Midlands as a centre of healthcare excellence was a popular topic in the afternoon workshops, as Neil Mortimer from the WMAHSN led a group which was vocal in its desire for a platform to promote the region. When asked what the West Midlands has to offer the global healthcare market, there was a passionate response.
A diversity of population should position the West Midlands as the place to do clinical trials, when combined with the specialist clinical trials unit at the forthcoming Institute of Translational Medicine and the excellent educational institutions across the region. A unique ecosystem of healthcare services, research and a diverse industry base – filled with people who can do just about anything, and high profile success stories like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and Royal Centre for Defence Medicine. Prompted to suggest next steps, the need for a strong positioning statement was seen as important, and many looked to the WMAHSN to provide a good platform for promotion.
In an eye-opening presentation by Mark Ebbens, a Partner at GE Healthcare Finnamore, delegates witnessed a way for NHS hospitals to plan for the future, test capacity and staffing levels in extreme situations, trial changes to processes and services and optimise their productivity, using simulation. Ebbens revealed a whole system hospital model, complete with complex shift patterns, surges in demand and crises. Improving productivity was also the subject of a presentation by Ian Smith from the Department of Work and Pensions. He focused on the need to be digital by default, and used the digital job centres as an example of how even traditional public services could be transformed in order to save money, improve services for the public and reduce delays caused by paperwork.
In the afternoon workshop led by WMAHSN’s managing director Dr Christopher Parker CBE, delegates supported this view, highlighting that in the financial services industry there had been a staff culture that was considered resistant to change and insecure due to technical innovation, but it had been transformed to recognise the opportunities that technology can bring to customers. But communication across the NHS was seen as the major barrier to enhancing productivity. It was felt that there was still a clear need for better partnership working between health and social care, primary and secondary care, and budgets are often siloed, preventing collaboration. The AHSN’s ‘push and pull’ model was highlighted as a solution, but many called for training to help staff manage cultural and behavioural change.
Bill Gowans, Vice Chair of the Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group, took an active part in the workshop, before joining the Stakeholder Perspective Panel later in the afternoon to take questions from delegates. His view on how to ensure the NHS adopts innovation to enhance productivity was clear: “The future Fit programme to redevelop our hospital services in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin depends on productivity and efficiency over the next twenty years. The work of the WMAHSN will help us facilitate this. More and more, we need to risk-share with innovative businesses and engage in partnership for many years. Enduring relationships, where people become co-responsible for the long-term,
are what we’re looking for.”
The belief that the NHS could be an ‘Intelligent Customer’ was raised by many over the course of the summit. Working in partnership, embracing innovation and generating science and healthcare jobs all require the NHS to change their risk-averse procurement cultures. WMAHSN’s Lucy Chatwin presented insights into how each healthcare organisation has the potential to be an Intelligent Customer – one which is able to understand the technical details of services being provided by each supplier in order to ensure the specification and delivery of the services are accurate, and to check that the solutions are meeting the needs of patients.
This highlighted the need for the NHS to adopt best practice principles in its procurement, as revealed by Susan Randall from the Chartered Institute of Procurement Specialists, who claimed a procurement specialist should be a channel for investment. She called for more contracts that flex and allow for bolt-ons, so they enable rather than stifle innovation. Her statistic that 46% of the opportunity is still on the table at the point of signing the contract shocked both industry and NHS professionals.
This was also reflected in the panel debate, in which Simon Adams, Chief Operating Officer for Healthwatch Worcestershire, took questions from delegates. He commented: “The panel debate at the economic summit was an excellent opportunity to bring the public and private sectors together to discuss the provision of healthcare in our region. There was real consensus that healthcare services should be patient-focused, and as such will need to change. This will require collaboration, which will lead to innovation and growth.”
The Stakeholder Perspective Panel was chaired by Professor Michael Sheppard, and included Andy Taylor from the Association of British Healthcare Industries, Steve Arnold from pharma company UCB, Dr Pam Waddell from Birmingham Science City and Jennifer Jones Rigby from Health Exchange, as well as Mark Ebbens, Simon Adams and Dr Bill Gowans.
They covered the opportunities to embrace social media, different approaches to risk-sharing and clinical trials, but when asked for ideas as to how the NHS, universities and business can benefit patients through working together across the West Midlands, the panel were in agreement. Bill Gowans called for the WMAHSN to be an effective dating and translation agency, and observed that academia brings in evidence, industry brings in solutions, but the NHS only brings needs. He admitted that it’s often stunningly hard, where there are three different cultures and languages at play. Jennifer Jones Rigby supported this view and appealed for more honest discussions between organisations around shared IP. Dr Pam Waddell summarised the discussion by asking everyone to think of patients as taxpayers, not just users of the system, who also want to see improvements in the services that they pay for.
As the summit moved location to the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), the tone changed significantly, with less focus on the challenges and more emphasis on the opportunities. In her opening speech, the Chair of UHB, Jacqui Smith, began: “There are so many things to be proud about in the NHS, but we have also created a real asset for research and wealth development. There are not many countries that can bring together patient and treatment data in one place as we have the potential to do in the NHS. It is also, of course, a real economic opportunity for the UK: high quality, high value jobs and economic growth potential. And we’ve got a real chance to
grow this work.”
Examples of ways West Midlands organisations were growing this work permeated this second day of the summit. UHB’s David Taylor spoke enthusiastically about the Learning Hub, which is helping young homeless people become apprentices with pre-apprenticeship training, and how their partnership with Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust was providing their students with apprenticeships. Paddie Murphy from PL Consultancy Services and Dr Pam Waddell from Birmingham Science City took to the stage together to describe the Europe-wide network they had built during the bid process for a European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), which explored healthy living and active ageing.
Funding for projects like these remains the sticking point, so Katie Trout from the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, Lloyd Broad from Birmingham City Council and Michael Wood from the NHS European Office all presented opportunities to tap into government and European funding. By working in partnership with other public services or organisations,
the NHS could access resources from more diverse springs, including the EU Structural Funds Programme.
To see what the West Midlands could achieve in this way, delegates heard from pioneers of national projects including Care City, a ground-breaking research, education and training and innovation site based in Barking. Helen Oliver, the Head of the Joint LEP Programme for Care City, explained how the project will help deliver better outcomes for local people and act as a catalyst for regenerating one of London’s most deprived regions. Looking at ways in which the project will use innovation to deliver integrated health and social care services, delegates learned how they could bring health and social care professionals together with researchers, education providers, technology experts, small and medium companies and social entrepreneurs to create a community project that provides local employment, research and excellent patient care.
Inspired by so many success stories, delegates began to question whether the vision for integrated healthcare in the region was visionary enough. This was highlighted during the panel discussion, which was chaired by Michael Wood. Experts Kevin Richardson from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, David Taylor from UHB, Lloyd Broad from Birmingham City Council, Sue Dunkerton from the Knowledge Transfer Network and Mandy Shanahan from Health Education West Midlands acknowledged the need for speedy and dramatic change. Kevin Richardson pointed out an important and subtle change in the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF), where they abolished the word ‘programme’ and substituted ‘operation’.
He described collections of activities intended to work and feed off each other, so people are bundling up projects and working across the city in one big operation. David Taylor supported this by asking for it to be done in a way that hits everyone’s agenda.
And finding areas for commonality on everyone’s agenda is what the summit tried to achieve. It will be a primary focus for the WMASHN as it begins work on its growth plan and builds its network and influence. WMAHSN’s Tony Davis summarised: “Over the course of this summit, we were able to demonstrate how the growth plan can work to make a positive impact on the local economy. Feedback from delegates shows that there is a story to tell, and that it is the job of the WMAHSN to tell it. By clearly setting out what we will do to lay the foundations for more visionary collaborations and partnerships, we can ensure that the region benefits, not just in terms of improved healthcare, but economically too.”