Bringing digital healthcare to an ageing population – University to launch regional technology network

Five out of the 10 UK areas with the highest proportion of over 65s are in the South West, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS)*. 

While new models of physical care need to be considered to support this ageing population in rural and remote regions, academics from the University of Plymouth are launching a regional technology network to help share challenges, and ultimately provide technological solutions to help ease the impact on services.

The South West Interdisciplinary Technology Consortium for Health and Care (SWITCH) is being launched at the University, with support from South West Academic Health Sciences Network, on Monday 8 July. 

SWITCH, led by the University’s Centre for Health Technology, is to act as an ‘ecosystem’ for NHS partners, industry partners, health and social care organisations and patient groups, set up to enable greater connection and collaboration across the South West region and beyond.

Working from the bottom up, patients, carers and health and social care professionals from Somerset to Cornwall will be able to use SWITCH to highlight the problems they face, while local businesses, researchers and funders look to develop and build potential solutions.

Find out more about the SWITCH launch event 

The launch comes amid the success of the University’s EPIC and IHA projects, which take a similar form and are currently running in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and Devon respectively.

The projects, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, have already seen initiatives such as Amazon Echo Spots being utilised in Cornish care homes, allowing them to impact on the people who need it most.

As well as ageing, EPIC, IHA and SWITCH are open to any area of health or social care that wants to bring forward a current issue for which technology might provide a solution. 

SWITCH will be part of the European Connected Health Alliance (ECH Alliance), and linked to the wider Digital Health Ecosystem Network across the globe, with groups sharing internationally-recognised technologies and data standards.

Among the speakers at the SWITCH launch event will be Ben Showers, Head of Digital Transformation at NHSX, a new organisation for digital, data and technology; Andrew Bannister from Microsoft UK, talking about ecosystem infrastructure support; and Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK.

Dr Arunangsu Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Digital Health and Education and Professor Ray Jones at the University of Plymouth, explained how they hoped the initiative would be self-sustaining and improve the quality of life of people in the South West.

“The University of Plymouth is at the forefront of digital innovation in healthcare,” Dr Chatterjee said. “And we want to ensure that everyone in the South West has the best possible access to the technology, or means of creating new innovations. Through SWITCH we intend to consolidate our regional offer through a single front door for industry, researchers and investors looking for partners, infrastructure and expertise.
“We are proud to be involving University researchers from science, arts and healthcare in SWITCH, but we want it to be self-sustaining and act as a go-to innovation enabler for service users, funders and the local businesses who can help.”
Professor Jones added: 

“The South West, which is one of the remotest parts of Britain, contains five out of the 10 UK areas with the highest proportion of over 65s. With an ageing population, our region is well placed to lead in the creation of projects that might help ease pressures on services. And if SWITCH continues as we hope, it could be an exemplar of digital healthcare internationally.”
Amanda Stratford, CEO of Healthwatch Cornwall said: 

“Digital technology forms part of everyday life now, for people of all ages. I am delighted to be speaking at the launch of this new initiative because involving the end user is so important. Innovation is truly valuable when it addresses people’s needs and you only know what those are by asking people and listening to their answers. Recently we asked people across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly what they would prioritise locally in the NHS Long Term Plan and it was clear that there is a real desire to see technology used more across health and social care.”

eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC)

EPIC is a collaborative project partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund with additional financial support from the South West Academic Health Science Network. The University of Plymouth and partners aim to improve the use of eHealth in Cornwall.

We aim to improve the use of technology in both health and social care hoping:

  • to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
  • and improve the Cornish economy in this sector. 

The EPIC project started in May 2017 and will run for three years.

Follow @EPIC_eHealth on Twitter.

eHealth and technology

The eHealth and Technology Research Group is focused on the impact and implementation of eHealth, on patients' use of the internet, and online collaborative learning between patients and professionals.

Assessing the impact of eHealth

*ONS data also shows that:

  • There are six areas of the UK where over a third of the population is over 65 – and four of these areas are in the South West.
  • East Devon has one of the UK’s highest populations of over 85s.
  • In West Somerset, the population of over 65s will have risen to 42% by 2036.
  • Residents in remote areas such as the Lizard peninsula face a 30-mile journey (1-hour drive) to their nearest hospital and, with the closure of community hospitals across the South West, the NHS is under increasing pressure.