As Leeds prepares to host its eighth annual digital festival from 18 to 29 September 2023, we explore, in part one of this feature – why Leeds? Why is The Leeds Digital Festival such a huge success here? What lies within our city’s amazing technology, digital and data ecosystem and how is it specifically pioneering ways to improve health and care through innovation?
Billed as ‘the tech event for everyone’ The Leeds Digital Festival is the largest open tech event in the UK, hosted by organisations across the region and sponsored by a number of our partners, including Nexus, Leeds City Council, University of Leeds and Leeds Trinity University.
According to the organisers, the festival, which was established in 2016 and has grown significantly since, is a celebration of “the Leeds tech ecosystem’s unique collaborative spirit” and “the people and organisations who make Leeds and the North such a vibrant hub for digital.” It showcases the digital enterprise and innovation that is happening in the city on a regional, national and international level.
This year’s programme features more than 200 events covering a range of categories including, most notably for us, Healthtech & Medtech. Our partner Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is hosting four events alone showcasing and discussing its innovative work from ‘designing digital hospitals’ to ‘creating a shared care record’ and ‘accelerating digital innovations across the NHS’. Meanwhile, Nexus and Propel@YH will be looking at ‘a global approach to solving health challenges’ putting the region’s work on an international stage, and Leeds Digital Health will share ‘how AI is improving health outcomes.’
A growing digital economy
West Yorkshire’s tech sector contributes , hosting 22% of all UK digital health jobs Leeds alone is home to more than 3,000 digital and data companies.
These economic attributes are not only the mainstay of the city’s digital ecosystem but also its engine to power innovation-driven digital growth. Its network of knowledge, relationships and shared know-how as well as its tangible assets and resources provide the perfect conditions to drive further growth through innovation.
The Leeds Digital Festival reflects this digital powerhouse position. It gives visitors a feel for and an understanding of why Leeds is at the forefront of this important and rapidly evolving sector.
Co-ordinated and connected digital inclusion
Digital transformation in health and care not only enables people to access the care they need quickly, easily, and conveniently, it also supports health and care professionals to communicate better. But none of these benefits will materialise to their full potential if people are excluded.
In a recent interview published in Integrated Care Journal, our board member and CEO of Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) Richard Stubbs stressed the importance of ensuring that driving innovation has inclusivity and accessibility at its core.
“Digital technology, data, AI, and robotics offer numerous opportunities to address system capacity challenges and enable patients to receive timely, high-quality care. For example, the PinPoint blood test optimises NHS urgent cancer referral pathways so patients in greatest need are seen first, whereas the Digibete online platform supports better management of young people with diabetes and helps prevent unplanned hospital admissions.
“These innovations will never replace care delivered by people and the specialist skills of our health and care workforce, nor is it an alternative to safe levels of staffing. Instead, it should be an integral part of a modern health and care system’s approach to coping with increasing demand. However, as around 22 per cent of the UK population lack basic digital skills, digital technology needs to be introduced in a way which doesn’t exacerbate existing inequalities”
Leeds is addressing this in a significant way and is recognised as a leader in digital inclusion. 100% Digital Leeds is an award-winning programme. Led by the digital inclusion team in the Integrated Digital Service (IDS) at Leeds City Council and Leeds Health and Care Partnership NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, its mission is to “build a coordinated and connected digital inclusion ecosystem across Leeds”.
100% Digital Leeds works hard to ensure that everyone in Leeds has equal opportunity to use digital tools, technology, and services in the right way for them. Health and care related programmes form a large subset of the overall activities run by 100% Digital Leeds. The team helps people access health services via dedicated health hubs, peer advocates and networks to remove barriers and provide support.
“There is no other team at city level anywhere close to this. Greater Manchester and the London Office of Technology and Innovation are doing some great work on this, but at a city level Leeds has been recognised as a leading digital inclusion programme”.
100% Digital Leeds has gained national recognition as the largest and among the best digital inclusion programmes in the country, adopting a ‘city-wide’ approach to digital inclusion, connecting organisations, partners and communities and driving a more connected city.
Ground breaking digital health innovations
Pioneering health technologies born in Leeds have become almost standard output from our digital sector in recent times, each new development continually providing an improved service offering and better care for stakeholders. Recent initiatives include;-
- Use of virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI); Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust recently showcased an amazing example of its work, using virtual reality and immersive technology in neuroscience to enhance patient engagement and rehabilitation. This example of Leeds being at the cutting-edge of innovation to provide better care is enabled by the Trust’s Innovation Pop Up, connects industry partners with clinicians to co-design technical solutions for healthcare.
- The Pinpoint Test; a ground breaking innovation, developed by PinPoint Data Science in partnership with clinicians and academics and using machine learning. It harnesses the power of AI in cancer diagnostics – allowing clinicians to quickly triage patients with symptoms to reduce patient anxiety and time to diagnosis.
- The National Pathology Imaging Co-operative; a multi-million-pound programme, also based at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and another example of Leeds being at the forefront of digital pathology and AI research and innovation. St James University Hospital is one of the world’s first fully digital pathology labs and its learnings and experiences are being used as a blueprint for other Trusts.
Big data and big data analytics
The health sector generates a mass of complex and often large data sets historically much of which has remained disconnected. More efficiently managing and co-ordinating these big data sets provides the basis for endless opportunities to improve and speed up patient care, diagnosis and treatment. It also opens the way (via machine and deep learning) to analyse these big data sets to identify relevant patterns, develop insights and predictive capabilities, to further improve healthcare.
Leeds has been early to recognise this potential. Examples include:-
- the Leeds Office of Data Analytics (ODA): the depth, pace and scale at which it collects, analyses and interprets data from across Leeds City Council, the health and care system and beyond is ground-breaking, positioning Leeds as a national exemplar. Using sophisticated analytical tools and techniques to provide valuable intelligence and insight, the data collected helps inform how local public services can better support and transform local people’s health and wellbeing. The team develops and implements automated, data-driven solutions including a comprehensive and quickly evolving world-class population health management platform (Leeds Data Model), bringing together a wide range of NHS commissioning data and local dataflows, including from general practice, adult social care and public health. With plans to link these data sets with those in children’s services and wider local authority data, such as transport, air quality and housing, the Leeds Data Model capability is ground-breaking.
- a new collaboration between Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT) and Flatiron Health UK (Flatiron) – will utilise cancer data to expand research and improve care for UK cancer patients. LTHT has partnered with Flatiron to translate Leeds’ cancer patient records into high-quality data to expand cancer research opportunities
As major contributors to the thriving digital-led health innovation sector in Leeds, our partners are embedded in a city now recognised as a digital and data powerhouse. We’re looking forward to seeing how Leeds Digital Festival 2023 will not only showcase but progress this further through collaborative opportunities and we’ll be exploring some of the specific healthtech themes and insights coming out of it in part two of this feature.