by Richard Stubbs, board member of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Last Thursday marked the 70th birthday of our most cherished national institution – the NHS.
And while the birthday parties that took place up and down the country, including a glorious choral celebration at York Minster, showcased the pride we have in our health service; it is also clear that the NHS cannot continue to bear the weight of increasing pressures for the next 70 years.
Our healthcare system is stretched to its limits as demand soars due to many factors, especially the rise in people with long-term health conditions such as diabetes and dementia. Teamed with a rising population, the obesity crisis and an increase in the older population, it is no surprise that the NHS is showing the strain.
As someone who has spent a career working in the NHS, I know that NHS staff are dedicated and hardworking, often in times of immense pressure and scrutiny. The fact that the system is buckling under pressure is no reflection on them. Rather, it reflects the fact that, if we are going to have sustainable and affordable healthcare in the future, we have to innovate in order to find ways to keep people healthier and out of hospital for longer.
Wellbeing and prevention are therefore becoming the most important aspects of healthcare strategy, not just in the UK but in every nation where healthcare costs are rising. There is no doubt that this agenda needs to be a focus for all governments, as we seek to stop healthcare costs from an ageing population consuming more of our taxes.
In my role as chief executive of the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network, I’m passionate about encouraging the spread and adoption of innovation across the NHS and defining a more productive relationship between the NHS and the healthcare industry. This means the public and private sectors working together, using research from the very best in the field and then converting this world-class knowledge into interventions that will keep all of us healthier for longer.
One of the best examples of this innovation, not just in Yorkshire but on a national and potentially international scale, is the cutting-edge Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park (OLP) in Sheffield, which is leading the way in terms of creating a collaborative centre of research where these real-world solutions can be created, tested and implemented.
Built on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium in Attercliffe, the OLP is delivering a legacy from the 2012 Olympic Games which, I hope, will have an impact on people’s lives for generations to come.
The nucleus of academic innovation at the OLP is the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC); a “living laboratory” which is now under construction.
Set to be the most advanced research and development centre for physical activity in the world, the multi-million pound centre will provide cutting-edge indoor and outdoor laboratories, staffed by a team of more than 70 Sheffield Hallam University researchers. These researchers will specialise in a range of areas, including engineering, psychology, healthcare and sports science, drawing excellence from several areas of study to create the best multi-disciplinary solutions.
It is my hope that, by bringing these technological solutions to life, the AWRC and wider OLP will have a direct impact on the population of the city region, the country and the world, helping people to live healthier lives for longer.
The fact that this is happening in Sheffield is, for me, no coincidence. Sheffield was the birthplace of football and has been home to many a sporting legend, from Sebastian Coe through to Joe Root and Jessica Ennis-Hill. Our city region also has more footballers playing in the current England World Cup squad than any other – yet more proof that what we have here is truly something special.
The AWRC and wider Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park builds upon this sporting heritage and uses the region’s excellence in advanced manufacturing and research to create something truly transformative for the country and the world, all while cementing the city region’s reputation as a beacon of active, outdoors life.
I look forward to playing my role in the AWRC become a reality, and to seeing the Made in Sheffield hallmark of excellence on the healthcare solutions of the future. And if these pioneering technologies means that the NHS can be as trusted and cherished for another 70 years, then that is something of which I, for one, will be very proud indeed.