Project’s £4 million funding extension to boost health technology sector
Funding has been announced for the next phase of a multimillion-pound project that aims to increase the use of digital technologies in health and social care.
The £4 million, three-year extension of eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) means experts can continue to support businesses in developing technology to address the challenges faced by communities and providers in coastal and rural settings.
The project, led by the University of Plymouth through its Centre for Health Technology, will also work to help patients, professionals and care commissioners become accustomed to new technology to encourage its adoption.
The aim is to create a sustainable ‘eHealth’ sector in the region that will continue to flourish long after the project is complete, developing, testing and manufacturing digital health products in Cornwall and the South West to be exported nationally and globally.
The latest award of £3.3 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) follows £2.7 million granted for the original EPIC in 2017. The second phase will make £600,000 available to businesses through a Challenge Fund, in addition to the £600,000 given out via the first EPIC Challenge Fund, which awarded 42 grants to businesses in the county.
EPIC will also set up ‘the EPICentre’ at the Health and Wellbeing Innovation Centre in Truro. The centre will showcase local eHealth products and services, and be somewhere companies, health and care professionals and others can come to view and work together on the design of new ones.
Adding a national and international dimension to EPIC’s existing work, under the second phase businesses and patients will benefit from the Centre for Health Technology’s links with established and developing eHealth sectors in countries across Europe and beyond, including Finland – whose eHealth implementation is seen as the gold standard – and Spain. International collaboration and sharing of best practice will support the development of high quality digital health products and services, and open up Cornwall as a ‘test bed’ for new products and services from around the world.
The new funding will also allow EPIC to help develop the embryonic care robotics sector in the region, encourage innovative ways of using the ‘internet of things’, and address the difficulties in delivering health and social care in rural areas through technology like low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs).
Professor Ray Jones and Associate Professor Arunangsu Chatterjee are leading the project at the University.
Professor Jones said: “Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (CIoS) face challenges because of rurality and the older population, but necessity is the mother of invention – that also becomes our advantage. By developing products and services that are needed locally we can lead the country with that technology.
“This additional funding will enable us to make progress in areas such as voice technology and telepresence that, alongside other developments in this field, can improve services so having a huge impact on the lives of people using them.”
Dr Chatterjee added: “In the last three years we have improved the innovation capability and capacity in CIoS by facilitating a bottom-up public and patient-led approach. The additional funding not only demonstrates our success but also enables us to create a pathway for innovators to scale-up in order to remain sustainable in the longer run.
“EPIC is the flagship project of the Centre for Health Technology, and the next phase will see our expertise influencing the direction of this critical sector at a global level as we strengthen links with international eHealth business and research, and make Cornwall a global test bed for new technologies.”
The collaboration includes the University of Plymouth, South West Academic Health Science Network (SWAHSN), Kernow Health CIC, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Partners in Care, the Patients Association, Healthwatch Cornwall, and GPs, care homes and NHS trusts in the county.
Cornish GP Dr Rehan Symonds, part of the team at Oak Tree Surgery in Liskeard, said: “As front-line Primary Care clinicians the EPIC project has shone a light on the potential for technology to positively impact efficiency and outcomes in care pathways.
“EPIC’s second phase has the potential to take all the valuable learning from the programme and focus on where technology can really count. We’re pleased to continue to support the EPIC team and look forward to reaping the rewards that increased technological innovation can bring.”
Wo King, CEO of Falmouth software SME Hi9, said: “What EPIC did for us was reveal the possibilities and identify the threats of entering the health market, early and clearly. Without EPIC we would not have gone into health, which has now become an important part of our company’s future.”
Software Cornwall Co-founder Belinda Waldock said: “eHealth continues to be a fantastic opportunity for Cornwall, and I am delighted to see that the momentum continues to build. Not only are more people aware of health tech and its applications, but we have observed a few Cornish tech businesses use their existing skills to make the move to eHealth.
“With 3 more years of EPIC support many more talented, and agile, small businesses in Cornwall can harness and grow within the now established and continually emerging industry of eHealth, and benefit from the opportunities this brings to our region.”
Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust Non-Executive Director Tracie North said: “EPIC has been a catalyst for technological change in health and social care. People from all over the county have shared their ideas and actively told us they are eager to see care delivery change, using technology to be more responsive to create more individualised care.
“EPIC will help Cornwall become one of the nation’s technological centres of excellence, growing innovation and striving for the right solutions to meet the Cornish population’s health and social care needs.”
Vaughan Temby of charity DisAbility Cornwall said: “It feels as if the situation within the health and social care sector is becoming ever more acute, with increasing need regardless of any extra funding that Government may say has been made available.
“We have to continue to think smart and determine where we can save money and how we can better support people. Where can we truly provide the right support, in the right place and at the right time? What services can we bring together and how can we use advances in modern communications most effectively?
“The support which EPIC can provide to small organisations and businesses locally can play a vital role in addressing these huge problems, which must be tackled now and in imaginative ways.”
TIME Magazine cover star and ‘world’s most advanced social robot’ welcomed to the South West
The Centre for Health Technology is attracting world-leading technology with Cornwall building a reputation as the ideal testbed for new technology.
Stevie, a social robot designed and built by a team from Trinity College Dublin, has been trialled for the first time in the UK by University researchers in Camborne’s Reflections day centre.
Professor Ray Jones, Lloyd Taylor and Olly Smith from the EPICproject and Gabriel Aguiar Noury from the AGE’IN project hosted Stevie in the Living Lab (a space for companies to test products) at the University for initial fine-tuning before undertaking a range of activities and tasks at Reflections.