This is how Leeds Teaching Hospitals plans to help health tech firms

Senior figures at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust are on a mission to make it easier for health tech firms to collaborate with the NHS on new technology, writes Lizzie Murphy.

Saturday, 9th October 2021, 11:45 am
Prof David Brettle, chief scientific officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, outside the Old Leeds General Infirmary building on George Street in Leeds. Picture: Gary Longbottom

It’s 155 years since one of the world’s biggest health tech innovations was developed in Leeds.

In 1866, Yorkshire physician, Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt, invented the portable six-inch clinical thermometer, able to record body temperature in five minutes.

Now Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust is on a mission to show how 21st century technology can transform healthcare by helping companies and entrepreneurs navigate the NHS innovation system.

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Prof David Brettle, the Trust’s chief scientific officer, and James Goodyear, the Trust’s strategy director, are leading the project, which has begun with the launch of a new Innovation Pop Up.

Members of the pop up, which is located in Leeds General Infirmary’s grade one-listed Gilbert Scott Building on Great George Street, can access a range of support, including the use of a hot desk and meeting space where they can meet clinicians.

The pop up’s first member is 3D LifePrints, a medical 3D printing company which designs and manufacture patient-specific medical devices. Since becoming part of the Innovation Pop Up it has established contacts with Paediatric Cardiology, Cranio Maxillofacial and Neurosurgery teams on the hospital site.

Prof Brettle says there are plans to double the size of the pop up by expanding further into redundant rooms on the ground floor of the building - the original Victorian Infirmary designed by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott - which previously served as the doctors’ mess.

“There’s no point taking our clinicians out of hospital, they haven’t got the time or capacity. But if we can bring companies into our space, we can help them to demonstrate their technologies in a way that’s accessible to clinicians,” he says.

“We want to engage public, patients and staff in the vision of how technology can transform the NHS,” he adds.

There are also about 20 former bedrooms on the upper floors of the building which Prof Brettle is keen to see turned into offices for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the future.

“I expect to see corporates and SMEs use the hot-desking facilities and work with us in the pop-up space but also resident businesses in there ranging from a business in a backpack, all the way up to a large corporate,” he says.

“The pop up is a ‘just do it’, disruptive move to change the culture of innovation, to say to the region we’re open for business, come into Leeds Teaching Hospitals, work with us and we can help you navigate the NHS innovation system,” he adds.

The Trust is understood to be in discussion with about 40 businesses who are interested in becoming pop-up members, including three large local corporates, and it is also developing relationships with companies in other countries, including Israel, Norway and Spain, to bring inward investment into the city.

The Innovation Pop Up is the testing ground for a new Innovation District, which will be created in the city after 2026 following the £600m redevelopment of the Leeds General Infirmary site.

“The pop up is about proving our commitment, showing we’re open for business but also being ready for the innovation district after the new hospitals are built,” says Prof Brettle.

The Trust estimates the innovation district could eventually create around 3,000 jobs and deliver up to £11.2bn net present value.

The strategic partnership between Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds Beckett University, the University of Leeds, Leeds City Council and the private sector intends to drive regeneration, innovation and economic growth for the city and the wider region.

A sizeable amount of the old estate at Leeds General Infirmary is no longer used for modern patient care because it isn’t up to today’s exacting healthcare standards. Other parts of the site will become redundant when the two new hospitals are built.

The LGI Development Project aims to release the potential of this estate – around five hectares in total – to support the growth of the Leeds Innovation District.

The Trust says it offers a number of ‘exceptional opportunities’ for mixed-use development, creating spaces for education, innovation, commercial uses including retail and office space and accommodation.

Mr Goodyear says: “We’re still a few years off the more significant developments but there’s a huge amount of investment already going into this part of Leeds, with the Nexus innovation hub and the Leeds School of Arts.”

Mr Goodyear says the Trust has studied innovation district models in other cities, including Liverpool, Manchester and London, but he insists that Leeds will be different.

“We are really fortunate to have the Government investment in the new hospital and that can act as a real catalyst for this work because of the opportunities for us to apply new innovations in buildings that are fit for purpose and with appropriate infrastructure,” he says.

“What’s also unique to Leeds is the way that the health and care partners and the academic institutions work together through the Leeds Academic Health Partnerships. That’s a real source of strength.”

He adds: “We see the Innovation Pop Up as critical to the success of the new hospital site. It’s a demonstration that we work effectively with commercial and academic partners on health innovation and shows this to a developer who might be looking to bring forward innovation space.”