In a keynote address today, Health Minister Simon Hamilton highlighted the contribution the health sector makes to the local economy.
He was speaking at a Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce event, which was hosted by Randox Laboratories, Crumlin.
The Minister said: “In a week where Health has been in the headlines because of the pressures facing our Emergency Departments, it is clear that my priority as Minister must always be providing high quality health and care services for our people.
“But in sketching out my vision for a world class Health and Social Care system for Northern Ireland, I have equally indicated that a characteristic of a pioneering Health Service is one that has a productive partnership with industry.
“I have frequently said how I firmly believe that innovation will be at the heart of developing a world class system. Harnessing new developments in digital health, diagnostics, genomics and personalised medicine are key to dealing with the challenges we face with a growing and ageing population, unhealthy lifestyles and a rise in the number of chronic conditions, all at a time when public finances are constrained. Doing so with health working alongside business and our universities in ways that benefit our local economy as well as improving health outcomes for our citizens will be an important added bonus.
“Health is a sizeable segment of Northern Ireland’s economy. We have around 130 companies with a turnover of close to £1 billion a year, employing approximately 7,500 in the sector. Randox is a genuine world leader and we are proud of what the company has achieved.
“The Department of Health already makes a major contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and not just in the sense of being an employer of almost 70,000 people, a spender of nearly £5 billion annually, an investor of in excess of £200 million each year in infrastructure projects and the importance of a healthy population to economic prosperity. There are also many outstanding existing examples of our health sector, academia and industry working in a productive partnership to develop and enable new products and speedily translate them into patient care.
“Projects such as Ulster University’s Centre for Stratified Medicine, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, the Precision Medicine Catapult where Northern Ireland is a UK Centre of Excellence and the work of the Medicines Optimisation Innovation Centre in the Northern Trust. Each of these are at the cutting edge of their field, putting Northern Ireland on the map globally and are perfect examples of health and industry working in tandem for mutual benefit.
“But I want my Department to assist in growing our economy even more than we already are. That’s why Health and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment signed a Connected Health and Prosperity Memorandum of Understanding. And that’s why we are in the process of developing a Health Innovation and Life Sciences Hub to bring even greater cohesion and direction to cross-sector healthcare innovation engagement.
“The Hub is intended to be a collaboration-based initiative, bringing together our Health and Social Care, university and business sectors to stimulate the development of new health and care products, processes and solutions. To be effective the Hub will need a dedicated team working across the whole life and health sciences sector and to focus on areas where Northern Ireland has been found to have particular strengths, as well as areas of emerging challenge. A Hub can create that essential connectivity and clarity of direction across the academic, business and clinical communities with the benefit of more effective and sustained engagement between the HSC and the private sector.
“I know that Health is not an economic department in the way that DETI or DEL are but I want the work of my Department to play its fullest role in growing the local economy. We have an impressive record already of working closely with our universities and the business community with some significant success. But I want us to go further.
“It is my intention to convene a roundtable discussion involving key stakeholders from industry, academia and the public sector to conduct an examination of how Health can do more to encourage economic growth. I want them to make recommendations as to how we can build on the work of the NI Clinical Industry Collaborative and promote Northern Ireland as a destination for pharmaceutical research and trials, what issues there are with our procurement process that are perhaps preventing patients in Northern Ireland benefitting from the ground-breaking work of local businesses and how can we develop more SBRIs and capitalise on the Finance Minister’s recently created fund.
“Health’s first priority must always be health and wellbeing of our population, but all aspects of government have a contribution to make to our efforts to achieve economic prosperity and I am determined that the Department of Health will work in partnership with industry to not just help generate jobs and growth, but also do so in a way that develops new products that make our people healthier,” added Minister Hamilton.