For this month of March we are really excited to be able to feature the England – SWITCH Health Ecosystem as our Ecosystem of the Month. Andy Bleaden, Communities Director, says: “The South West Health Ecosystem were the last UK ecosystem to join our network and have since then been a great connector for our network. Based in the South West of England, they have experience collaborating with other peripheral areas and therefore are strong in addressing digital health inequalities. We are very excited to see the results of their latest projects, such as the development of an out-of-hospital Living Lab.”
What is the approximate stakeholder breakdown of your ecosystem?
The SWITCH Health Ecosystem is housed in the Centre for Health Technology in the University of Plymouth with collaboration from colleagues at the University of Exeter. It began with a focus on Cornwall and Devon, two coastal counties in the Southwest of England. Recognising that coastal and rural areas on the periphery of our country are more likely to be digitally immature (in the Peninsula, for example, only one of our five acute hospitals has a comprehensive electronic patient record system), we are increasingly collaborating with other peripheral systems, such as in Kent and Sussex on the Southeast coast and central Scotland.
Another feature of our system reflects our strong belief that the adoption of Digital Health Technologies (DHTs) rests on both technological excellence and the need to address a range of architectural, evidential, socioeconomic, and cultural challenges that are shared by other health systems but are particularly challenging in the NHS. As a result, we focus on building and brokering relationships across academia, industry, and health and social care.
We, therefore, have a wide range of stakeholders. Academic organisations with whom we currently collaborate include the Universities of Brighton, Exeter, Falmouth, Kent and Stirling. The South West region has the fifth largest tech sector of the 12 major regions in the UK, worth £11.0bn, which is generated through a tech workforce of around 170,000 (2021). SWITCH is an open and collaborative ecosystem with universities enjoying meaningful and long-term relationships with a large number of small and medium enterprise (SME) as well as international and multinational companies. With a core focus on digital health and environmental sustainability, the region specialises in evidence-based innovations with real-world impact. For example, our European Regional Development Funded (ERDF) funded eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Project (EPIC) has engaged with over 350 SMEs and provided bespoke academic support to 101 of these. We have established partnerships with Cornwall, Devon, Sussex, and Kent Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) to promote digital acceleration in coastal and rural areas. ICSs are whole system partnerships that comprise acute and mental health hospitals and community services, general practices, local authorities (including public health and social care), businesses, other public sector partners such as the police and education, and organisations in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector. Again, the EPIC project worked across health and care providers in Cornwall (including 230 care homes) and some 40 user groups; while the ERDF funded Smartline project, led by the University of Exeter, worked with more than 200 social housing households and engaged with over 280 organisations across Cornwall.
Who are the top 3 champions from your Ecosystem?
We have so many partners that we are quite reluctant to single out 3 champions! Most of our ‘champions’ are single organisations rather than collaborations – so it is a really difficult question to answer.
What EU funding/collaboration are you involved with, or you would like to be part of?
Some of the EU funded projects that we have led or been part of include:
We are currently waiting for confirmation about the status of UK partners in EU funding opportunities – but would be delighted to partner with others who share the same priorities.
What are the key priorities and themes for your ecosystem?
Our mission is to address digital health inequalities, whether that be from geography, age, deprivation, or disability. We take a whole system approach considering not just the co-design and development of cutting-edge technology and the optimisation of data; but barriers and enablers to its translation in the complex health and care landscape; as well as its impact on the health of populations, the well-being of our health and care workforce and its ability to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of health and care systems as a whole. To this end, we bring together a truly multi-disciplinary team.
Some of our members specialise in the development of novel DHTs (from apps and wearables, virtual reality, and robotics to the deployment of AI). Others bring expertise in implementation science, knowledge mobilisation, and evaluation (inc. economic evaluation) to support digital transformation.
What is your primary strength as an ecosystem?
The University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology and its partners bring together a critical mass of researchers whose goal is to excel in developing innovative health technologies; work at the intersections of academia, industry, end users, and policymakers to develop and evaluate meaningful solutions to address real-world challenges and produce research that demonstrably contributes to improving the lives of people and communities, at both a local, national and global level.
We have strong connections in the UK to key stakeholders in industry, government, and academia and also enjoy brilliant international relationships. Our knowledge of the complex routes to regulation in the UK has placed us in a strong position to support SMEs in going to market, an important role for us as we believe that, due to its multiplier effects, the digital economy can help to revitalise the economic health of coastal areas such as the Southwest which are suffering from poor productivity due to the decline of traditional industry.
We also have exciting plans in place, including the development of an out-of-hospital Living Lab, and would love to talk to other members of the ECHAlliance to see how we might work together.
Who are your clinical champions either hospitals, clinicians, specialities?
Depending on the focus of particular projects we work across hospitals, general practice, community services, social care and mental health of which there are many clinical champions, passionate about digital transformation including Samantha Prime, a Registered Nurse (Aus) and Research Fellow specialising in digital health. Samantha Prime is the incoming co-coordinator of the SWITCH ecosystem.