Associate feature: Advancing the Scottish healthcare ecosystem: global insights to help shape our future ambitions
We have become accustomed to hearing about the challenges in healthcare – staff and infrastructural pressures, rising demand amid the country’s ageing population, lack of funding, and more – but away from the headlines, there is a wealth of positive, inspiring activity going on that places NHS Scotland at the heart of a reimagined, transformative tomorrow.
It sets the backdrop to Scotland’s Health Research and Innovation Conference taking place on 31 October at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, showcasing a progressive, ambitious Scotland with vast potential.
Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientist for Health describes it as “a chance to discuss and plan for healthcare needs for successive generations and what delivery of that might look like in the years to come.”
Under the theme 50 years of advancing healthcare, recognition of the 50-year anniversary of the Chief Scientist Office of Scottish Government, more than 60 speakers from across the country are lending their insight and expertise in topics as varied as precision medicine, data and artificial intelligence (AI), clinical trials, medical devices, drones, and digital tools.
Set to showcase the true depth of Scottish healthcare expertise, the conference is rather uniquely positioned to bring together all those with the potential to drive healthcare forward – researchers, innovators, healthcare professionals, policymakers, industry, public involvement contributors and participants in health research.
But with Scotland’s aspirations to be one of the most innovative small nations in the world, international guests play an important role – analysing synergies in our respective approaches to research, development, and innovation; but also, by extension, in globally promoting improved healthcare.
Joining from Singapore is Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Permanent Secretary (National Research & Development); Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Chairman of the Ministry of Health (MOH) Office for Healthcare Transformation.
Professor Tan’s work in shaping the health research and innovation ecosystem across Singapore and pushing for new technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve good, or even better, healthcare will provide valuable insight to help Scotland’s drive towards better adoption of new health technologies.
Last year, the Ministry of Health in Singapore launched its Healthier SG initiative, which aims to shift the Singapore healthcare system from primarily caring for the sick to an approach that emphasises preventive care and helps Singaporeans take proactive steps to manage their health, prevent the onset of chronic diseases, and lead healthier lifestyles. Investing in diagnostics to enable early detection of diseases and personalised preventive care is deemed essential to this effort.
Talking about the initiative Professor Tan explains:
“Healthier SG is a major transformation initiative. It strengthens our health system, addresses challenges of population ageing, and the rising chronic disease burden. It will also provide critical foundations for healthcare of the future, enabling the faster deployment of innovations at scale.”
“Whilst Singapore has successfully brought down premature deaths from diseases like cancer and heart problems, chronic problems like diabetes and obesity have held steady while the incidence of hypertension and high cholesterol has shot up.
“This is why Singapore again needs to transform its healthcare system, to ensure its people continue to achieve good health outcomes at relatively lower expenditure in the future, even as our population ages rapidly and chronic diseases rise.”
So as a country equal in population terms to Scotland, what can we learn from approaches taken in Singapore? Professor Tan highlights strengths, and areas ripe for future development in Scotland.
“Singapore has learnt many valuable lessons from the healthcare innovations in Scotland. Arguably the most important one is the management of data in ways that enable and drive healthcare improvements while ensuring privacy and public trust. As we think of future health systems, nearly all the innovations with transformative potential would rely on the timely availability and use of high quality data.
At the same time, the ability of the Scottish health system to test innovations at pilot scale, adjust and scale rapidly is an important complementary strength. Taken together, the excellent “data infrastructure” that has been established in Scotland and the ability to scale efficiently, provide a myriad of opportunities to successfully transform health and healthcare in the future.”
Scotland has long enjoyed strong ties with Singapore.
Earlier this year, a delegation from Scotland met with life science companies in Singapore and identified opportunities in health tech. A group of medical professionals from SingHealth – Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster – also visited the West of Scotland Innovation Hub, part of a network of regional innovation hubs set up by the Chief Scientist Office.
This visit explored innovation projects underway in Scotland including the use of AI in emergency medicine, a digital app supporting patients to receive care at home through remote monitoring, in addition to projects to reduce appointment wait times. The projects showcased the collaborative model of NHS working with academic and industry partners.
Similar collaborative approaches are underway in Singapore with a recently agreed Healthcare Translation Partnership (HTP) between SingHealth and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
Designed to bring together strengths in clinical care and healthcare innovation, with expertise in sciences and technology, the partnership aims to catalyse the development of new solutions through research and innovation and empower healthcare researchers and innovators to better leverage emerging technologies that will bring about improved care outcomes for patients and the population. The focus is on three major healthcare innovation areas - medical technology; AI, data science and digital health; and health services innovation.
Against the current backdrop of recovery, renewal and transformation across NHS Scotland, the conference and the insights it brings are timely.
Being outward looking and receptive to new ideas is critical as we carve out the roadmap for navigating the next 50 years in healthcare while positing a much-changed NHS when it marks its next big milestone.
Scotland has the building blocks in place. The triple helix partnership between NHS, academia and industry is advancing innovation at unprecedented pace and positively impacting all areas of healthcare. A whole-system approach across NHS Scotland is enabling precious resources and funding to be maximized. Important clinical trials are up and running right across Scotland, pushing for, and making key breakthroughs. These trials span all therapy areas – cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, stroke, dementia, mental health, and much more. Exciting projects that are at the vanguard of innovation are also paving the way for transformation in its purest sense, offering multiple benefits to both patients, NHS, and to Scotland’s growth.
The immediate future for NHS Scotland remains challenging of course, but it is also replete with meaningful solutions – to accelerate diagnosis and early intervention, reduce waiting lists, and times for results – all informed by patient-led insights and a vast bank of workforce know-how that ensures equity of care, a better patient experience and improved clinical productivity.
These are the outcomes we want to see in a modern, sustainable health system. We now must balance meeting the needs of today, while carefully addressing the demands of tomorrow. Embedding research, development and innovation is critical and so this milestone conference represents just the beginning of so much more.
This article is sponsored by NHS Research Scotland