Innovate or be history

Innovate or be history

Linda Pollard, chairman of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, tells BQ editor Mike Hughes about the importance of innovation.

Linda Pollard’s job at the head of the LTH NHS trust makes her responsible for a £1bn turnover and about 14,000 staff. “Innovation is totally essential,” she says. “We are lucky at Leeds that we are a major research centre, nationally and internationally and it is clear to me that research and innovation have to be at the forefront of everything we do.

“We are working on so many specialisms here, from hand replacement to organ research – there are dozens of pieces of work going on all over the place and without it you are doomed.” That volume of work will soon be added to if a bid is successful with Sheffield to be the Genomics centre for the North, focusing attention and funding on cutting edge DNA research and mapping.

“That’s the latest thing, but behind that is research, research, innovation, innovation. And if you take your eye off the ball you will be history in a very short space of time. That refreshing thinking needs to be pressed home at the highest level, so Leeds is very fortunate to have Linda Pollard at the top of its tree. She has a vision of how hospitals should be run and it is a perfect fit for this age of high technology and bright ideas – and has found the ideal home in a region rich with innovation that has earned it a global reputation.

“It has to be part of what you genuinely believe in as an organisation and it has to form an enormous part of your strategy, which is what it does at Leeds. If you don’t support it and don’t support the people working in collaborations all over the world, you get left behind and lose those people.

“I want them in Leeds and need them in Leeds and I particularly want them to teach in Leeds so we can bring through the next generation who are inspired by them and want to do their own creativity.”

Keen to set an example, Linda admits to ‘running on a prototype’ herself, having had an outside knee joint fitted a few years ago and adds ‘this sort of thing goes on all the time’.

“I was asked if I would be up for a prototype and said ‘of course, anything is better than what I have’. You have confidence in your clinician – otherwise you shouldn’t be there in the first place.

“It is all about how they talk you through the benefits. You should have a degree of apprehension about any intervention because your body can react in certain ways. But if you understand you go into it with your eyes open. There is something new every day in this arena. Medtech in our part of the world is fantastic and you have to take the benefits of that. We have people on our doorstep doing this work who couldn’t do it without access to the people we employ and vice versa.

We have to keep pushing the boundaries. You would be very foolish as an organisation not to take it seriously and sell it to the population, and also to the staff, because they love success and working as part of a clinician’s team. It is a real morale booster.”

The trust has developed a strong relationship between the Leeds Cancer Centre and cancer services provided in Malta, including the training of two separate groups of medical physicist students, and a contract commissioning two new Linear Particle Accelerator (Linac) machines for treating cancer with radiation.

LTH has also delivered oncology nurse training in Malta and Leeds, which, in turn, follows on from an agreement with the King Hussein Cancer Centre in Amman for training and collaboration in Jordan and Leeds.

Wherever it works, there is a LTHT enthusiasm for both spreading the word and pushing the boundaries. “There is no question of the home benefit of what we are doing, but I am after a world reputation because that is what attracts the big-hitters who want to get involved in certain subject matters that we are leading on,” says Linda.

“There is a question asked at every consultant interview we do: ‘what do you do with research?’. We are aligned with the university and have a responsibility there to encourage research and we are a teaching hospital. Linda and the trust has worked closely with Olga Kubossava who - as well as being a member of the wonderful Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists (it really exists, as part of www.improbable.com) – set up and runs Image Analysis.

From completing her PhD in computer science at Leeds in 2007, Olga’s company is now a leading pioneer in MRI analysis software. Its cutting edge work allows for early detection of even subtle changes in MRI scans taken before and after the treatment from patients with, for example, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.

“Olga is seriously amazing. I was chairing the university when I first came across her and she won Innovator of the year. That was her first accolade, but she has just gone on and on, and she is now at the leading edge of her sector. She is a role model of what you can do after the initial struggles of getting started. She is young and she has really cracked it. As we all know, there will be failures and successes along the way, but if you don’t try, you don’t know.

For all the Olgas and John Fishers, there will be other poor souls who are still flogging away who haven’t had the breakthrough yet, for whatever reason. But if they are working on a serious innovation that needs support, then we have to seek them out.”