The population of the UK is expected to increase in the coming years, with England set to see an especially high population growth. And with the threat of future pandemics and disease resistant to our existing therapies and treatments, a greater need for improvement and resilience of the nation’s healthcare systems and infrastructure is key.
The UK’s exceptional ability to manufacture and deliver vaccines in the UK, as well as the speed at which we established COVID-19 clinical trials, the genomic sequencing of the virus and a consortium for immunology and cancer (UK-CIC and UKCCMP), has led to a faster economic recovery and greater resiliency for the country against the full impacts of the pandemic. But, how can regions build on this collaborative and rapid response to develop further innovations in healthcare?
Raising the bar across regional health provision
As part of the CBI’s Seize the Moment economic vision for the UK, health features prominently as the foundation of wellbeing and economic growth. This is a move that is strongly welcomed by Birmingham Health Partners (BHP) and our associated collaborators at The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.
BHP, a strategic alliance between the University of Birmingham; University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trusts; and the West Midlands Academic Health Sciences Network, works in direct partnership with industry, academia and local government to bring healthcare innovations to clinical application.
We, like the CBI, recognise that employers who actively seek to reduce health inequalities and improve quality of life for their staff and the local community are contributing directly to a wealthier, healthier local population. A few ways businesses can accomplish this include:
- Boosting wellbeing by providing flexible working and homeworking, implementing and encouraging time for community volunteering and no after-hours emailing.
- Taking an interest in employees’ health issues by training mental health first aiders, offering health insurance, establishing cycle to work schemes and other green transport initiatives.
- Ensuring robust and well researched and resourced equality and diversity plans are in place including schemes like Athena SWAN, LGBTQ+ groups, global majority networks, staff training, and parent and carers networks.
Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that the West Midlands lags behind other areas in terms of its R&D funding. In 2018, the average Londoner received £60 per head in government funding, whereas those in the West Midlands only received £20 per head.
Raising health standards across the UK to above European averages will be an ambitious task, which places the connected healthcare cluster concept at the centre. Collaboration between life sciences companies, the regional health system and universities requires investment and resources to become ‘the norm’.
What does a connected health ecosystem need?
The life sciences sector in the West Midlands has been a key player in supporting the national effort during the pandemic. This sector has actively conducted itself as one of the UK’s ‘beacons of hope’ that the business secretary spoke of in July’s announcements around the government’s UK Life Sciences Vision for the next ten years. In the West Midlands we are committed to creating a pro-enterprise environment as per the UK Life Sciences Vision, directly supporting the sector to grow, attracting investment and creating highly skilled jobs for the industry and region.
Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC) has been recognised by the government as one of six Life Science Opportunity Zones, critical in delivering key themes of the Life Sciences Vision, including: improving UK clinical trials capability; supporting the growth of life science clusters; linking businesses directly to the NHS; and delivering data enabled healthcare innovation.
This status provides direct engagement opportunities with the Office for Life Sciences and Department for International Trade. They have identified BHIC as a high potential opportunity for data driven healthcare, as well as having the ability to raise the profile of the UK and attract inward investment from national and international businesses.
With the West Midlands possessing a diverse and stable population of almost six million people, the clinical trials activity in the region presents extremely robust datasets and comprehensive real-world results for nationally and globally significant medical research. The Birmingham Centre for Clinical Trials encompasses the most significant cluster of clinical trials expertise in Europe, including the UK’s largest academic cancer clinical trials unit and a dedicated childhood cancer trials unit. The BHIC facility itself is to be co-located with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham Women’s Hospital, University of Birmingham Medical School, and the BioHub Birmingham – an incubator for biosciences SMEs and digital healthcare and MedTech spinout companies.
Multidisciplinary collaboration with private and public partners from across the UK – including renowned academic institutions, research-intensive NHS trusts and charities – is at the core of clinical research in the Midlands and within BHP. Working with our region provides the wider life sciences and healthcare industry with access to 80 hospitals and specialist care facilities, the largest medical devices cluster in the UK, a vast talent pool of STEM graduates and apprentices, and of course globally influential academics and researchers.
For the UK to establish itself as a truly thriving innovative and effective health ecosystem we need to focus our collective efforts on proactive leadership, meaningful and well-resourced collaboration, and a boost to funding.
Importantly, we must apply the learnings and experience from the West Midlands’ leading role in the pandemic response to the wider health research ecosystem, transforming future approaches to the healthcare challenges we face.
So, with life sciences critical to the UK’s health, wealth, resilience and labour market - employing more than 250,000 people nationally and generating an £80bn turnover - we are focusing on the West Midlands as a case study for a thriving region of opportunities in health and seizing the moment to reveal findings from our recent report addressing the question:
How can the UK simultaneously improve economic productivity, wellbeing of our population; and resilience of national infrastructure to withstand future global shocks?
Register for the CBI Annual Conference 2021
We will be discussing the report findings further in our panel discussion at this year’s Annual Conference. Please join the conversation online.
Tuesday 23 November
12:00 – 13:00 | Session Title: How do we develop an innovative and effective UK health ecosystem?