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8 February 2022

How the site of the world’s oldest civic hospital is set to be transformed

Our groundbreaking scheme will provide state-of-the-art healthcare to people living in and around Leeds.

By Dame Linda Pollard

Designed on the advice of the nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale and completed under the exacting eye of the architect George Gilbert Scott in 1869, the Leeds General Infirmary was the world’s first civic hospital. Based on a pavilion plan to prevent the spread of infection and featuring modern bathing facilities and flushing lavatories throughout, the gothic building in Great George Street provided relief to the sick and hurt poor of the proud Victorian city. As the industrial powerhouse grew, so did the infirmary, adding new wings across an expanding site and establishing itself as one of Europe’s foremost hospitals with a series of national and international breakthroughs, including the UK’s first kidney and hand transplants and the birth of modern emergency medicine.

Over the years, the Grade I listed gothic structure has sadly become unsuited to the needs of modern healthcare and had been left largely empty – until recently, when something started stirring in its halls that would surely please Nightingale and her ministering angels. The Gilbert Scott building is now home to a growing community of high-tech start-ups led by clinicians and entrepreneurs focused on transforming the latest advances in science, technology and engineering into products and services that can help solve the health and care challenges facing Britain and the world. Since its launch in September 2021, the Innovation Pop-Up has worked with 150 companies including AI specialist IMedis and 3D LifePrints, identified 30 collaborations and ten funding opportunities, and successfully engaged with clinicians and entrepreneurs across Israel, Norway, Spain, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, the US and Taiwan. This collective of companies, now numbering 15, benefit from access to clinical teams, open-plan work space and tailored business support and resources. It is the first step in the development of a globally significant innovation district in Leeds.

At the heart of this new destination will be our ground-breaking Hospitals of the Future scheme to build two world-class hospitals – one for children, the other for adults, both by 2027 – to supply state-of-the-art healthcare services to people living and working in Leeds, West Yorkshire and the wider region. Our development will free up five hectares of surplus real estate including the Gilbert Scott building, unlocking new space for innovation, commercialisation and education in the sweet spot of one of Europe’s largest medical, academic and industrial establishments. This represents one of the most exciting UK investment opportunities of the coming decade and others clearly think that too – we are attracting strong interest from institutions and corporations across the world wanting to see how they can take a stake in what we are creating in Leeds.

The timing is just right. There is a political commitment to “levelling up” and increasing investment and productivity in the north of England. The digital health sector is booming as more health services move online during the pandemic. The global market was worth $350bn (£259bn) the year before Covid struck, according to management consultancy McKinsey. By 2024, it will be worth nearly $600bn (£444bn). Leeds and Yorkshire are already home to some of the UK’s most powerful players in the emerging digital health sector, companies helping to improve health outcomes, tackle inequalities in care, boost productivity and reduce NHS costs. As this new powerhouse grows, so will Leeds, attracting new investment, technology and spin-offs and bringing a wealth of health, economic and social benefits as we combine our practical and intellectual strengths. Latest government figures show Yorkshire is the top region for digital health employment outside of London and the south-east. This is only going to grow: estimates from accountancy firm PwC suggest our hospitals development will serve up another 3,000 new jobs plus an £11bn boost as part of the wider innovation district. That will go some way towards levelling up and building back better.

We are wholeheartedly backing the plan to cement the UK’s position as a science and technology superpower. The government is investing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to boost research and development and help UK scientists and technologists in the race to solve the major challenges facing humankind such as global pandemics, climate change and ageing populations. The Chancellor sees a more innovative, high-skilled economy as the sustainable path to prosperity and we are laying the foundations in Leeds, as the Prime Minister saw when he visited our site in the autumn. We believe the new hospitals at the Leeds General Infirmary will kick-start the innovation district and have a catalytic effect on the wider economy. In our vision, Leeds will become the place for breakthroughs to be trialled, adopted and spread through health and care systems in every corner of the world. Leeds will be a shining light for the future design and delivery of health and social care. That’s something the Lady with the Lamp would surely approve of.

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