David Calder, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Life Sciences, discusses how collaboration between sectors is vital for the future of healthy ageing.
By David Calder
Our society is older than in previous generations and getting ‘older’. This is of course a good thing. People are living measurably longer, but unfortunately those extra years of life are sometimes not as enjoyable as they could and should be.
To compound this situation further is the fact that as our society becomes older there is a reduction in the relative number of younger people available to provide support and care in the traditional fashion. We will simply overwhelm the health and care system in a relatively short space of time if we don’t adapt.
Despite all that, this situation is the true success story for technology and innovation in the 20th and 21st centuries. Benefits from innovation derived across many aspects of daily living, from agriculture and food/nutrition, to transport, communication technology, secure energy supply and improvements to the urban environment, as well as the notable contribution from medicines and public health care have led us to this point.
It’s a sad twist that the extra years of life, prolonged by technological innovation, are INCREASING the burden on our health and care systems. And they are also changing the nature of the problems faced and how they need to be managed. The diseases of now are non-communicable and often chronic (life long) in nature. Not the industrial injuries or infectious diseases the NHS was designed to treat.
The healthcare system itself and the model in which healthcare is provided often comes up in discussion on this topic. The traditional model of diagnosis via a General Practitioner, escalation to acute services (Hospital), a period of treatment, then ‘discharge’, is the first societal process that started to buckle as we began to experience those extra years of (sometimes) unhealthy living.
Tackling these issues is essential and much work is underway in recognition of that. However what’s really needed is intervention before people present to their GP with modern ‘lifestyle’ issues, and helping those that do require further treatment to be able to break away from the revolving door of the hospital providers and help them manage their own conditions independently wherever possible. In short, the future is fewer hospitals because we will find better ways of delivering care or enabling safe self-care.
The so-called ‘demographic time-bomb’ went off some time ago. The future of the UK and virtually all developed economies is inextricably linked to how we respond to the extra life years we are experiencing. This is the major business opportunity of our time.
New Market Opportunity
What we actually have is a huge potential market of ‘un-met need’. The future for healthy ageing is simply to understand and serve that market much, much better than anyone does at present. We need to understand CONSUMERS and in particular LIFE STAGES not just age groups. Understand them and provide desirable, elegant, fantastically-designed products and services which we want as well as need.
Through the Ageing Society Grand Challenge, government is investing over £300 million, including £98 million from its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to bring together the UK’s world-class research expertise with business investment to develop technologies and industries that can help the UK adapt and thrive.
The solution-set will require radical thinking and some risk taking, and that RISK is why we need the funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for healthy ageing to pump-prime the eco-system we need to address the challenge and benefit from the opportunity before us.
Collectively we need find out what people really want (as well as what they may need) and provide these services or products seamlessly and perhaps in ways that circumvent traditional business models. What’s is really needed is imagination and radical thinking and so the results will inevitably be highly disruptive.
Innovation will cross into 3rd sector, major corporate and SME communities alike. There is likely to be a significant digital component to the services and solutions brought forward and new ways of handling sensitive information and establishing true ‘interoperable’ platforms and applications will be a key aspect of successful bids. In short, the innovation is going to encompass business models, data assets, citizen engagement and activation, joy and aspiration.
Been here before? – This time it’s going to be very different
Innovate UK and others have funded research in this space previously but with an emphasis on the so-called medical model. That meant trying to ‘build out’ from our traditional health and care services. Major brands have also dipped their toes in and out of this sector for sometime but have not been able to find a way to articulate the opportunity into a coherent business strategy. Their interest is not misplaced, people over 50 own over 50% of all household wealth in the UK!
This time with support from Ministers, the combined capability of the UK’s academic community, innovative SME’s plus our globally recognised design genius and the market ‘clout’ of some of these major corporate entities it is possible to see a new route forward. The collaborations that the ISCF funding can bring about will catalyse the change needed to get REVOLUTIONARY products or services into the hands of consumers directly and enable a future society we should all be hoping to enjoy.
In summary this is going to be about collaboration and risk taking and that is the home ground for public innovation funding. The prize is global; every advanced economy is experiencing these changes. We believe that the UK has many of the pieces necessary to create the solution but they are not yet joined up. My advice for those companies looking at this opportunity is simple: form collaborations (true collaborations) early and work hard on those relationships to take advantage of this programme. We need to think and work differently to benefit from this opportunity and move the game forward.
If we can change the paradigm for those who are or might become less well and enable them to remain healthy or ‘more well’ we then ALL truly benefit from those extra years that many of us will enjoy. At the end of the day we all want to be able to live happily and independently, doing things we love with those we love and in our own place or on our own terms for as long as possible.
About the ISCF Healthy ageing programme
The £98 million ‘healthy ageing programme’ will drive the development of new products and services which will help people to live in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing.
The programme will be investing in tackling some of the toughest medical challenges facing society today.