Graham Silk

Graham Silk

Taking the pulse of our health economy

The Silk Report is Birmingham’s strategic stepping stone to its future healthcare economy. BQ2 invited Graham Silk to give a personal opinion on the sector’s current state-of-play.

I am most impressed by the quality of strategic leadership. You look at (for instance) Sarah-Jane Marsh, Julie Moore and Tim Jones. The pressures on the NHS mean they must always be mindful of day-to-day issues, but they are also looking very clearly at tomorrow.

I’m also pleased at the innovative approach by the Institute for Haematology, who are working very closely with Big Pharma, to help in-patients become out-patients, so they don’t need nurses, or porters, or kitchen staff, or any other of the NHS’s precious resources. They are treated at home, they feel happier, they probably get back to work more quickly, and then they start earning and paying taxes again. However, it’s worth noting that haematology is the one area (in the UK) where we are ahead of the game on five-year survival rates.

This approach also frees up hundreds of bed-days in the main hospital, which although it’s not a huge number in context, does prove that the strategy is correct.

Across the whole healthcare/ life sciences piece, there are signs that people are starting to think of new ways of doing stuff, which was a central point of my report. New drugs are starting to come through faster and more effectively than they once did, which is better for patients and for the NHS’s finance.

I’m also delighted to see that Birmingham’s hospitals are sharing best practice with hospitals outside the region, and I’ve heard of new relationships developing as far away as Leeds and Southampton.

Also, the Trials Acceleration Programme developed around haematology is now being adopted in other areas of healthcare, which is strengthening the relationships with Big Pharma, helping drive the intellectual property community, and starting to evolve a 21st century health model.

The formation of the M40 Alliance, where the University of Birmingham and Oxford University are working together to create a ‘corridor’ of consultants, clinical researchers and nurses between their two cities is also an excellent initiative.  Again, it’s an approach welcomed by Big Pharma firms and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, because it accelerates the development and the testing of new therapies. Each university is putting something like £3m into this alliance, and the Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research has given them £7m to speed up the delivery of novel treatments for arthritis.

Now the Institute for Translational Medicine is open, it’s great to see that we’re looking at much rarer diseases, and taking a more precise and tailored approach to medicine, which is often called the ‘stratified’ approach.

The area’s growing expertise in Big Data is also tremendous news, as to me, patient data is the lifeblood of the NHS. When someone has a medical issue, their data should be available right at the first point of contact, whether that is a paramedic at the roadside, the GP in your local surgery or someone at a hospital.

I understand that the word ‘data’ in a health context scares some people, but if we just called it ‘patient information’ would anyone be concerned. In many other sectors, such as retail, for example, people hand over their data without stopping to think, yet their health data could save their lives.

In many ways, I’m pleased at the progress being made towards what I call an ‘arena of knowledge’ in healthcare and life sciences. My only significant cause for concern is that people do need to become more savvy about commercial opportunities and about accessing private sector finance.