When in Cumbria…

My name is Tom Bell, I am a recently-ish appointed project manager, looking to establish a digital health collaborative within an emerging National Centre for Remote and Rural Medicine which is being developed by the University of Central Lancashire in West Cumbria; confusing I know, but to those of us involved it all makes perfect sense.

Cumbria, especially West, North and East Cumbria, is the most challenged and probably the most rural healthcare system in England. And yes, the two things are inextricably linked; the recruitment and retention challenges, the financial challenges, the quality challenges, the engagement challenges, the innovation challenges and the low levels of technology adoption are directly related to the disparate and dispersed nature of the locations and the people within the healthcare system itself.

How do you spread ideas and consistency within an NHS Trust that operates out of over a hundred different physical locations? Ideas on a postcard, preferably an e-postcard, please. I call myself a Cumbrian though I was born in Barbados (long story) and have lived here since I was three, I think of myself as a ruralite and come out in a cold sweat if I have to drive in Manchester or travel on the underground.

I am active in cyberspace and, having realised many years ago that technology is the great enabler for people in rural and remote settings, I use virtual networks extensively. If you want to keep up to speed with best practice and leading-edge thinking, then keeping connected and networking online is the only way to be in a rural environment. The list of favourites installed in my browser is extensive and I still get a buzz out of knowing that I can watch the world’s leading thinkers and doers talking to me from the servers of the Ted website at a time and place that suits me…it still strikes me as one of the great advantages of our digital era that a bloke in a small rural market town in Northern England can watch talks by some of the most accomplished people in the world without leaving the comfort of his home; I mean really, do you think Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Hans Rosling, Bill Gates, Rory Sutherland or Susan Cain would have the time or inclination to come to Cumbria and deliver talks and share their insights? I don’t think so.

I like being online and I like what being online has achieved for me and what it is doing for the people around me in the rural county that I love. I also like the idea of where technology will take us, what its potential is for the enabling of rural communities and the levelling of the playing field when it comes to accessing and using services in every area of our lives. Innovation starts with discussion and ideas need people and networks in which to develop and from which they emerge. Having the opportunity to develop a network under the One HealthTech banner is exciting news for Cumbria. There are a great many innovative people in clinical, administrative and management posts spread across the county who between them have a wealth of good ideas and enthusiasm. Cumbria can now harness this and as well as enabling stakeholders in the healthcare system to access knowledge from the One HealthTech national network, the One HealthTech Hub for Cumbria will help the county bring people and their ideas together so that we can make the most of them to benefit the rural communities they serve.

The inaugural launch of the One HealthTech hub was held in West Cumbria on a glorious, sunny afternoon in early June. The event was ably and inspirationally opened by Angela from One HealthTech who was followed by a mix of great local speakers, these included a local Paediatric Clinician with a passion for using technology-enabled care, an innovative GP Practice Manager, the forward-thinking technology manager of Cumbria's out of hours Primary Care Provider and a representative from a local district council who talked about their ground-breaking project to harness the Internet of Things using LoRaWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks). The largely rural audience were keen to see how technology could be used in healthcare to provide the quality, quantity and equality of services that rural and remote communities need access to. One of the signs of a good event is that attendees stay behind to network and chat afterwards, and the launch of the One HealthTech Hub for Cumbria was no exception.

Check out at the links below some of the talks from our inaugural event:

Cumbria is a big geographical patch to cover and so a series of One HealthTech events are now being planned at different locations to accommodate people who want to know more about the potential for technology-enabled care across the county. An autumn event is being planned in Carlisle on the hot topic of Artificial Intelligence. If you want to get involved or have any ideas or knowledge that you would like to share then please get in touch with me at TBell4@uclan.ac.uk -- I look forward to hearing from you.

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