Northern Lights: Future’s healthy for city whose care and research is now second to none

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Health care and research is a great example of how our city and region can work together and shows our commitment to being world-leading for the benefit of every one of our citizens.

One of the sights which most impressed me when I first visited Sheffield was an old poster on the wall of the university where my daughter was a student. Only this wasn’t for a rock group or to advertise an upcoming gig, it was a historic flier urging local workers to donate towards a fund to found the University of Sheffield.

There is so much more I could say. I have personally experienced wonderful care in our local NHS and have dear friends and colleagues who are full of praise for what our united health services bring to us all.

Committed to being ‘A University for the People’, the poster made clear that a key purpose for a University would be to provide a centre for the treatment of accidents and diseases, including those closely linked to the heavy industry of the day.

The very first hospital in Sheffield was the General Infirmary which opened in 1795, also the result of a public fund-raising meeting. Medical training at the time was unstructured and often by apprenticeship. Hall Overend, a surgeon apothecary, began teaching medical students in Sheffield in 1811. A truly wonderful teacher by all accounts, he was the father of medical education in Sheffield.

Funded by public subscription, the Sheffield Medical Institution opened in 1829 on Surrey Street. It contained a museum and library, a dissecting room and a lecture room. When the University of Sheffield gained its Royal Charter in 1905, the Medical School moved to the main building on Western Bank (now Firth Court). In fact, the Medical School is the oldest establishment of higher or professional education in Sheffield.

Yet medical education and research can never be effective if they are removed from the patients they exist to serve. From the very beginning, Sheffield’s medical teaching and discovery had the closest of relationships with the city’s hospitals and later the outstanding hospital trust which serves the whole region.

Its students from around the world would do their training and serve as staff within the NHS as they do today – from Barnsley and Chesterfield to the Northern General and Hallamshire Hospitals. When it comes to health, we could not afford borders.

The industrialists and workers who reached into their pockets to make donations large and small to found the Medical School and later the University were visionary. I believe they would be proud of what their investment achieved. Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was recently named as a top ten research active NHS Trust by the National Institute for Health Research, and some 11,490 patients of all ages had access to groundbreaking clinical research between 2016 and 2017.

This is where the strengths of our universities and hospitals show what a difference they can make for local citizens as they work together. It is not only that the city is home to a specialist cancer hospital or to world-leading research and care in neurodegenerative diseases such as MND, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It is that by working together, we can serve all our people better.

Over the years since our University was founded, real medical breakthroughs have taken place in Sheffield. Howard Florey, Chair of Pathology in Sheffield between 1932 and 1935, was awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases. And we continue to work at the forefront of medical research. The Yorkshire and Humber NHS Genomic Medicine Centre (YHGMC) is a groundbreaking initiative and will sequence 100,000 genomes from around 70,000 people in the UK. Participants are NHS patients with a rare disease, plus their families, and patients with cancer. Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust are a key part of this vital project.

The scholars, doctors and health care professionals I am privileged to work with strive to put knowledge at the service of people of all ages across our region, from the frail elderly to the very youngest children. The use of a ‘miniature’ MRI scanner for imaging the brains of premature babies is being pioneered by the Trust in partnership with the University of Sheffield. This compact scanner, at the Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital, is one of only two purpose-built neonatal MRI scanners in the world.

Doctors and scientists from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and the University are also developing a ‘next generation’ device which could revolutionise the prevention of premature birth by accurately predicting the chances of pre-term delivery up to three months in advance.

It is also true of that terrible but increasingly treatable disease, cancer. Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the University of Sheffield and Yorkshire Cancer Research have joined forces to deliver a £4.5m investment programme which will lead to the appointment of ten of the country’s most promising cancer researchers in Sheffield, benefitting patients across the region. We are also working with patients and local people to bring together academia, health and social care plus technology innovators to test new models of care for patients with long term conditions. A national trailblazer.

And we do not restrict our efforts solely to traditional areas of medicine. The Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre aims to be the most advanced research and development centre for physical activity in the world. A joint venture between Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Sheffield City Council, it will be at the heart of the Olympic Legacy Park.

And if you think that the engineers from the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing are only interested in next generation cars and planes, think again! A model of the inner ear made with a 3D printer is being used to educate patients about benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, a disorder arising from a problem in the inner ear – a distressing condition which can result in patients feeling truly isolated and unable to function.

The more accurate model, which was commissioned following a meeting with engineers from the Centre and ENT surgeon Glen Watson from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, is also being used as a teaching aid for current junior ENT trainees, nursing staff and medical students internationally.

There is so much more I could say. I have personally experienced wonderful care in our local NHS and have dear friends and colleagues who are full of praise for what our united health services bring to us all.

There is so much more to do of course, and we need to improve, learn and innovate if we are to meet the needs of our city and region in the future. But together, as in all things, we are stronger, and I believe a united approach to health care which is respected around the world offers an example for public purpose which we can and must apply to all areas of public need.