Citylabs Lounge: Connected Health Cities and the Health North Project
Life expectancy across the UK population is increasing, but an often overlooked fact is that that people living in the North of England live on average three years less than people who live in the South of the country.
This disparity between life expectancy in the North and South of England has been the driving force behind a number of recent projects, in particular the ‘Health North’ project delivered by Connected Health Cities to improve healthcare across the North of England.
At this month’s popular Citylabs Lounge event we heard from John Ainsworth, Director of the Connected Health Cities Coordinating Centre, based at our Citylabs 1.0 innovation campus in Manchester.
John, who is also Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Manchester, told us about Connected Health Cities’ groundbreaking £20m project to utilise data to improve healthcare across the four major regions in the North of England.
At present we have individual sets of healthcare and clinical trial data, but we need to go beyond just monitoring and overseeing this information. Health North aims to unite available data and encourage better partnerships between health services so that data can be utilised in more efficient and effective ways. With these insights, we can then actually start to create preventative measures and solutions that can be put in action, to prevent illnesses rather than wait to cure them.
As the saying goes, ‘’the whole is better than the sum of its parts, and this is what we want to do with healthcare data.’’
John explained that the UK’s rising life expectancy is obviously a great indicator that healthcare is improving and allowing people to live longer than ever before. However, our ageing population comes at a cost. Not only does living longer give way to more illnesses and issues, but also creates more pressure on the NHS to accommodate these individuals. It is therefore essential that we improve the efficiency of healthcare across the North.
Funded by the Department of Health, MSP worked with the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA) to win the bid to deliver the Connected Health Cities project. The NHSA are a not-for-profit membership organisation. Its Board and Council represent the leaders from the North’s top research universities, research intensive teaching hospitals and Academic Health Science Networks.
Health North is a three year pilot project that will deliver real improvements to local communities. The project has 3 key aims:
1. Health North will fundamentally improve and optimise health and social care. To do this, we are making sure that information is easily and readily accessible to health services managers so that it can be quickly implemented into standard practice.
The data we have from healthcare and clinical trials is relatively small, so this is not a ‘big data’ project. However, with the rise of IoT technologies and Manchester’s CityVerve Project, based at MSP that will transform Manchester into a ‘Smart City,’ it will be much easier to collect regular and consistent data.
With this data, we can start to build behavioural fingerprints of individuals and communities that need better care, and start to prevent illnesses rather than just cure them. For example, a more complete picture and understanding of public health in certain areas might allow us to prevent more cases of childhood obesity by making sure the right education is in place. Take a look at more of the care pathway projects here.
In this way Connected Health Cities is a data analytics project, creating a loop of evidenced based practice and practice based evidence, which is vital for an optimised health system that can deliver preventative measures and better care.
2. Health North will work with and gain the public’s trust to understand we are using health data responsibly. John explained that the project wants to open up these conversations to the public, and demonstrate the instrumental value that data feedback can have on populations. ‘’We have already started to do this with our successful social media campaigns such as #datasaveslives, which opens data and insights to the wider general public.’'
Of course, the idea that technology could serve to collect data about our everyday routines and healthcare requirements can be quite daunting, but projects like Health North and CityVerve, characterise the fast paced nature of technology and healthcare. Only eight years ago, the first iphone was introduced, so you can see just how fast technology and innovation can advance in what feels like such a short period of time.
3. To make sure Health North stimulates the UK’s Digital Health economy by encouraging new technologies and services to be developed and implemented, also key to our work here at MSP in growing a leading digital health cluster. Connected Health Cities offers an open innovation platform and network for delivering real world evidence studies. It can shine a light on what needs to change, whether this be addressing the health inequality in lower income towns, social issues or education to get a fuller picture of our healthcare needs.
‘’By working in partnership with other health services and making better use of the intelligence that is contained in our health records, we can address many of the challenges facing our NHS. The problem though, is that many of the required IT frameworks are not currently in place and once they are, they need to be populated with the relevant data. Connected Health Cities will start this process and will aim to demonstrate its success by focusing on specific disease areas and data.’'