Sussex Innovation is home to a cluster of organisations from the health and wellbeing sector. From working with drug development companies, data analysts, digital application developers, medical writers and device manufacturers, we see first-hand the complexity involved in pushing forward new approaches and helping to maintain public health.
Throughout September and October, representatives of our team have been involved in a series of partnership workshops held at the University of Sussex and led by Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Debbie Keeling. The aim of this project is to co-create a model that supports place-based health innovation in response to healthcare needs.
These focus groups brought together a mix of people from across Kent, Sussex and Surrey, including local government, the NHS, academic researchers and commercial healthcare enterprises. Participants were asked to consider what problems and challenges exist within our current system that stood in the way of their vision of health innovation, and what the potential solutions might be.
“We brought these different stakeholders together to problem-solve around what a place-based health innovation ecosystem could look like and what difference it would make to people’s lives,” said Nora Davies, External Stakeholder Engagement Advisor at the University of Sussex.
“What does ‘place’ mean? How can we meaningfully involve people in a ‘place’? Which health innovations could respond directly to their needs rather than assumptions, and can an innovation ecosystem be developed to support this? The aim of these workshops is to agree on a place-based innovation model that can be translated into practice.”
Healthcare provision in the UK has been under strain since the Covid-19 pandemic, as hospitalisations reached an unprecedented level. The pandemic and ensuing vaccination roll-out had a knock-on effect on expenditure throughout the healthcare sector, and left significant disruption in its wake. Many patients deferred preventive care, creating backlogs in the system, while staff shortages increased due to burnout and the ongoing effects of Brexit.
Although it is a challenging time, this disruption offers fertile ground for innovation. There is widespread recognition of how vital a well-functioning health service is, and an appetite to understand how we can do things more effectively – the perfect conditions for new ideas to take root.
Health Hubs: a place-based approach
We’ve supported several local projects in recent months centred on the concept of ‘Health Hubs’; a space for bringing together various different aspects of health and wellbeing provision under one roof. Health hubs might include local NHS primary care services alongside a variety of other services, such as community space, mental health and wellbeing counselling, or leisure and fitness facilities.
The model is part of a move towards holistic healthcare, recognising that ensuring the health of communities is a complex and multifaceted challenge. Bringing services together under one roof enables doctors to access a wider range of referral options for their patients, as well as creating more proactive opportunities.
By giving local populations more autonomy over their physical and mental health, a portion of serious health conditions may be prevented from ever developing - in turn meaning that fewer people need to see their local GPs, and those GPs can offer more time and care to those who need it most.
In focus group conversations with healthcare professionals, we’ve heard that day-to-day contact between different arms of the health and wellbeing sector is also crucial for improving outcomes. In much the same way that bringing together growing businesses at an Innovation Centre helps to foster collaboration, creating more touchpoints for healthcare providers to meet and interact helps to foster more targeted interventions.
Health needs are diverse, complex, and different from region to region. Each area might see higher levels of deprivation or affluence, differing access to housing, employment, education or social care, a predominantly urban or rural environment, a homogenous population or one with major inequalities. This is why local health and wellbeing hubs need to be designed from the ground up, in consultation with local communities and in response to what is needed most.
This summer, Sussex Innovation delivered a research report for the SPACES programme (Strategic Property Asset Collaboration in East Sussex), identifying and sharing some of the key trends observed in successful health and wellbeing hubs around the UK. We also offered our recommendations for how to establish a similar programme in the region in a way that will be both commercially sustainable and deliver the biggest possible social impact. We look forward to playing a part in a happier and healthier future for our local community.