The West Midlands Medical Technologies Cluster Forum

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The West Midlands Medical Technologies Cluster Forum – 10 September 2008, NEC, Birmingham

The West Midlands, a region with a strong heritage of engineering, is home to over 600 medtech SMEs specialising in telemedicine, assistive technology and other areas. The tag-line for this event was “Come see what it’s all about” – “it” being the regional Cluster Opportunity Group (COG) facilitated by Advantage West Midlands (AWM) to bring together private and public sector stakeholders in the region’s healthcare.

How the COG turns

Jamie MethuenOver 150 delegates from local industry, health and related organisations were welcomed by Katy Draper, MD of Marketing Medicine, and Mike Lord, COG Chair and MD of Minivator. In her introduction, Katy Draper put the event in context by saying that closer partnership between industry and the NHS is vital to the survival of both at a time of growing economic pressure.

Mike Lord explained the role of the COG in advising AWM on investment in the medtech sector. Another function of the COG is to facilitate mutual understanding and partnership working between the public and the private sector: unlike many such groups, the region’s medtech COG has a strong public sector element. Its long-term objective is to make the West Midlands a global centre of excellence in medical technologies.

John Shermer, Director of e-health company Halliday James, described the frustration of seeing public money invested in projects with no realistic agenda. The COG “filters out the rubbish on both sides”, he said, enabling innovative and capable industry and health professionals to work successfully together. As an example, he looked at how new technologies can give people with disabilities an “electronic ramp” to independence and mobility.

Christina Keey-Andersen, Medical Technologies Cluster Manager at AWM, discussed how the COG determines AWM’s strategy for supporting the growth of the medtech sector. The leading element of the COG’s budget allocation is helping companies to access new markets. The key areas it focuses on are ‘intelligent health’, assisted living, infection control and human engineering. She described the COG as “medtech activists”, building and promoting a culture of innovative healthcare.

Tony Davis, CEO of Medilink West Midlands, discussed how the Darzi report shows the NHS working to break down its artifi cial barriers to innovation. Mike Lord expressed the hope that the NHS will come to accept CE Mark approval as confi rming the safety of a product. Both speakers emphasised the growing importance of the consumer market, and the resulting need for ‘crossover’ products targeting both the NHS and retail.

The morning concluded with a ‘Have Your Say’ session, in which delegates had a choice of round-table discussions on issues such as ‘Raising awareness of innovation’, ‘Export vs. NHS’ and ‘The future of Internet-based healthcare’. The discussions overran and broke up reluctantly, showing a greater commitment to innovation than to eating lunch.

Now’s the time

During the break, delegates visited a range of poster and stand promotions for business-friendly organisations such as MedilinkWM, the Healthcare Design and Technology Institute (HDTI), the Business Innovation Centre (BIC) and the Centre for Healthcare Innovation and Development (CHID).

Mike Lord

Jamie Methuen, Product Manager for Smith & Nephew, spoke on ‘The Future of the Medical & Healthcare Sector in the West Midlands’. He described his company’s long-term development in the UK, and noted that “FDA inspectors make MHRA look like the Blue Peter team”. He explained the shift of the S&N orthopaedics business to Warwick in terms of the region’s workforce, facilities and communications links. Looking ahead, he predicted that the healthcare market will both increase and become more demanding.

Futurologist Ian Pearson challenged the audience with his bold vision of ‘The Future of the Medical Industry’. Aiming to be ‘best in class’ in one product area is no longer worthwhile, he argued: it is more important to be diverse and fl exible. He predicted the evolution of a ‘smart environment’ for healthcare, rich in sensors, tags, data stores, processors and communicators, and concluded with the prospect of a cyber-enhanced world: “Nature 2.0”.

Whether or not they were keen to look that far, the delegates at this forum left with their horizons expanded, their pockets bulging with business cards and their confi dence in the region’s medtech industry upgraded.