Research 02.02.24

South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub unveils Google investment

The South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub, based at Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park, has unveiled investment in health tech research and training by Google, to help tackle inequalities in the region and drive economic growth.

Led by the University of Sheffield, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University and alongside the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the £4 million Digital Health Hub will use the investment to fund research, digital skills training scholarships and apprenticeships for local students and businesses.

As part of this, the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub will work with Google on a series of pioneering research opportunities. The first of these – the PUMAS study – aims to understand whether Pixel smartphone sensors that detect light, radar, and electrical signals from the heart could aid the detection of common conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and chronic kidney disease. Early detection of these conditions could help people to make informed lifestyle choices which could slow down and even in some cases prevent their progression.

The first study of its kind, looking at how digital technologies could transform the way that people interact with their health, has the potential to save lives, improve health outcomes and free up valuable NHS resources.

Tim Chico, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Sheffield and Director of South Yorkshire’s Digital Health Hub, said: “We launched this health hub because we know that the more information we have about patients’ health as early as possible, the more opportunities we will have to make a difference. With partners like Google, we are able to look at how we harness technology to support that information gathering, to support patients and medical professionals to make decisions together earlier leading to better outcomes. Bringing together patients, healthcare professionals, researchers and companies creates a community of practice – it’s the future.”

The research will take place through the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub, a £4 million partnership led by the two universities alongside partners in health and business, to drive the development of innovative digital technologies to improve the way diseases are diagnosed and treated.

The South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub is part of the Insigneo Institute at the University of Sheffield and is hosted at Sheffield Hallam University’s world-leading Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC), which is dedicated to improving health and wellbeing through innovations that help people move.

Steve Haake MBE, Professor of Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and Deputy Director of the Digital Health Hub, said: “Our vision is to develop digital health tools that incorporate information from daily life to help patients and healthcare professionals make the right decisions at the right time.

“I am delighted that Sheffield Hallam University is working in partnership with the University of Sheffield and with industry partners like Google; together, we will use the Digital Health Hub to try to help solve one of the biggest issues we face – how to improve the health and wellbeing of the nation. The people of South Yorkshire will be our first beneficiaries.”

South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard, said: “Google are world leaders in digital health. Our partnership is based on our shared ambition to tackle the stark health inequalities that plague our communities, using cutting edge digital tools and solutions to address long-term problems.

“I refuse to accept that a baby born in Rotherham today is likely to live a life that is five years shorter than a baby born in a wealthy part of London. I know Google do too. That is why this investment from Google is so important; because it both reflects and reinforces our commitment to dramatically improving health outcomes across South Yorkshire, as we continue to make progress towards our goal of becoming the healthiest region in the country.”

To ensure that the region is equipped with the digital skills needed to harness these new technologies and unlock growth opportunities, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University will also have access to 500 Google Career Certificate scholarships for their students and people working or aspiring to work in digital health across the region. These scholarships will cover the cost of Google Career Certificates, training which provides learners with job ready, entry level qualifications in subjects such as cybersecurity, data analytics, project management, user experience and IT support. Google will also provide 500 Fitbits for a separate study on post-surgical rehabilitation.

The three-year long partnership will also see the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority work with Google to fund 30 digital apprenticeships for small businesses in South Yorkshire. The funding will be made available to local businesses for both upskilling existing employees and supporting new apprentices. This will enable businesses across South Yorkshire to retain and develop employees as well as expand, creating high-impact job opportunities in the region.

The investment was announced at a Google Digital Garage event at the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub based at the AWRC. At the event, over 150 local business owners and individuals will have the opportunity to learn digital skills and take part in the recently launched AI focused ‘New Fundamentals’ free training series, to learn practical skills and knowledge enabling them to capture the benefits of AI.

VP and Managing Director for Google UK and Ireland, Debbie Weinstein, added: “We’re proud to be supporting South Yorkshire’s academic, medical and local government institutions as they explore how technology could improve quality of life, free up valuable NHS resources and drive economic growth.

“Technology has the power to transform the nation’s health and we recognize the need for an approach that unlocks both the innovative tools and the skills needed to implement these solutions. That’s why we’re excited to have this opportunity to invest in this cross-sector collaboration which we hope will drive lasting change and serve as a proof of concept for other regions across the UK.”