The innovations transforming healthcare in the South West

From a mobile device preventing strokes by detecting irregular heartbeats, and apps supporting patients with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and lung conditions to manage their health at home and self-screening elephant kiosks, to a robotic baby seal helping to calm people with dementia – as the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary, innovation is transforming the lives of patients and staff from across the South West.

 As part of the birthday celebrations, NHS England has designated July as ‘Innovation and Digital’ month. With the NHS facing the challenges of an ageing population, health inequalities, and increasing public expectations against a background of pressure on funding, simple low-cost innovations are improving the quality of health services and having a dramatic impact on people’s lives.

Join the conversation and tell us your ideas at #InnovationSW.

‘Research and innovation is vital to ensure new ideas are developed into new treatments and services to help patients and relieve pressure on the National Health Service,’ says Dr Jonathon Gray, Chief Executive of the South West Academic Health Science Network.

‘However, innovation is not just about having an original idea, it is the whole process of developing getting that idea into widespread use. While people are coming up with great new products and services, it is not always easy for them to get the funding and resources they need to turn their innovations into reality. This is where Academic Health Science Networks are making a real difference by connecting and brokering partnerships between health and care professionals, academics, funders, social enterprises and industry.’

The South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) is one of 15 set up by the Government in 2013, to identify and spread health and care innovations across the NHS. As well as funding specific regional projects, the networks have helped speed up the adoption of innovative products, services and technologies by using their knowledge and cross-sector connections to match health needs with potential solutions, creating a culture which allows innovation to thrive.

Over the past five years more than 330 innovations have been introduced in 11,000 locations across England, benefitting 22 million patients, creating 500 jobs and generating £330m investment.

This month also sees the publication of the SW AHSN’s Annual Review for 2017 – 2018. The review, which is available at, highlights some of the ways in which the organisation has worked with partners to improve the patient experience and create better outcomes for everyone, and sets out its aims for the coming year.

As well as supporting local innovations, the SW AHSN is also helping to implement innovations developed in other areas which are now being rolled out nationally. These include revolutionary atrial fibrillation devices, which, for example, uses a mobile phone app and blood pressure cuff to monitor heart rhythms and are predicted to prevent around 7,000 strokes and 2,000 premature deaths each year.

Other successful national innovations include ESCAPE-pain, an exercise programme for people with chronic hip and joint pain; and ChatHealth, which enables young people to get immediate advice on issues such as anxiety, relationships and sexual health problems from health professionals through a safe and secure text messaging service rather than having to wait for a face-to-face appointment.

‘Funding and nurturing the innovations of tomorrow is vital for the NHS,’ says Dr Jonathon Gray. ‘The recent decision by NHS England to grant a new licence to AHSNs means we will be able to play an even greater role in spreading and embedding innovation over the next five years.

‘It is fascinating to speculate what the health service will look like for our children and grandchildren in another 70 years. AHSNs are a vital part of the country’s health economy and we are proud and excited to play a major role in how this story will unfold.’


Examples of innovations and projects happening across the South West include:

  • SCORE: this tool helps organisations and teams to assess and understand their culture. It has been offered to more than 9,000 staff in 96 health and care settings and is now internationally recognised.
  • Life QI: this online platform was developed as a collaboration between an Exeter-based small business and the SW AHSN. It supports more than 10,000 health and social care staff in 1,400 organisations to run quality improvement projects and share learning.
  • Transform Ageing: the SW AHSN has been working with people in later life, social entrepreneurs and voluntary sector organisations in four areas of Cornwall, North Devon, Torbay and Somerset to find new opportunities to help people age well.


Projects developed in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly include:

  • MySunrise: launched on 11 June, this cancer app, developed by the oncology team at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, provides information and support to patients and families from the point of diagnosis through the whole of their treatment at the Sunrise Centre.
  • MyPreOp: designed by Bodmin-based health technology software company Ultramed, this digital platform allows patients due to have an operation to answer questions from the comfort of their own home rather than having to have a pre-operation hospital appointment.
  • Epilesy self-monitor (EpSMon): developed with Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, this epilepsy management tool allows patients to monitor their wellbeing and know when to seek medical support.
  • Smartline: developed in partnership with the University of Exeter, Coastline Housing, Cornwall Council and Volunteer Cornwall, this project is using information on air quality, moisture and heating efficiency obtained by environmental sensors placed in 350 houses in Cornwall to design better systems for managing homes for the future and investing new products and services to help people live happier and healthier lives.
  • EPIC: The SW AHSN is a partner in this three year project, launched in May 2017 by Plymouth University. EPIC (eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly) focuses on developing digital technology to improve health and wellbeing in Cornwall, ranging from apps and programmes to help people trying to lose weight and take more exercise, to the use of sensors to raise the alarm if someone falls, trackers for people with dementia, or self-screening ‘elephant kiosks’ which monitor key physical health indicators. The programme is also investigating the use of robotic devices, including the Giraff telepresence robot, which helps elderly people to remain in their own homes for longer; Pepper, a humanoid robot designed with the ability to read emotions to help engage with isolated and vulnerable people; and Paro, a robot baby harp seal which is being used to help calm distressed patients and people with dementia.

Projects developed in Devon include:

  • Health and Care Videos: developed in Devon as a partnership between a hospital trust and a small business, the videos provide accessible and easily understandable advice on a range of health conditions to assist patients and optimise efficiency within NHS organisations.
  • Exeter Baby Bank Network: this project, which is based on the successful Bristol model, provides pre-loved baby essentials for local families in need.
  • MyCOPD: designed by a team of expert doctors and nurses, this digital tool helps patients manage their conditions at home, and includes inhaler videos, information on breathing exercises and a symptom tracker.
  • NHSquicker: a free app which gives information on waiting and travel times for local emergency departments and minor injuries units. Developed by health professionals from Devon and Cornwall in partnership with the University of Exeter, the aim is to help people make informed decisions about where to go for treatment and encourage them to consider using alternatives to A&E if their issue is not serious or life-threatening.
  • Virtue: designed to support people with dementia, this project is being tested in North Devon and uses a virtual reality app to allow them to revisit old memories as well as create new ones.
  • E-consult: this system, trialled in South Devon and Torbay, offers patients remote consultations and helps clinical teams to triage patients. Aimed at reducing pressure on GPs by signposting patients to other services for minor conditions, the new service saw more than 5,000 e-consultations take place between January 2017 and January 2018, only 1,000 of which required GP involvement, with the remaining issues being dealt with by other health professionals, including pharmacists and specialist nurses.


Projects developed in Somerset include: 

  • MyDiabetesMyWay: this educational platform’s first English pilot site was in Somerset and offers an interactive online self-management platform for people with diabetes.
  • Bering AI: based on an algorithm which uses the answers to six questions about a patient’s health and care situation, this tool can predict their chance of being admitted to hospital as an emergency during the following year, and has been tested in general practices in Somerset.
  • Droplet: developed at the Musgrove Hospital, Taunton , this ground-breaking drinks reminder system helps patients to stay hydrated through friendly messages played from the smart base of a Droplet® mug or tumbler. The dementia-friendly mug and plastic tumbler play a series of messages if a patient hasn’t regularly picked up their cup to have a drink.


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