The View from Here – Dame Linda Pollard

Image of Dame Linda Pollard, head and shoulder portrait of Linda smiling to camera against a white background

In this series we ask key figures in the region and from our core sectors to share their insights.

This time, we spoke to Dame Linda Pollard, Chair of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT) about the Leeds Innovation District Partnership and her ambitions for the city as a centre of excellence for healthcare and medical technology.

You Chair the Leeds Innovation District Partnership – what is it aiming to achieve?

We’re in a really exciting phase for the Partnership, following the pandemic pause. The release of five hectares of land with the building of our two new hospitals creates a space to extend our current Innovation Pop Up into a world-class hub for research and innovation. We’ve held this vision for some time, and now we can really see it taking off. We call this vision the ‘Innovation Village’ and it is the cornerstone of the ‘Leeds Innovation Arc’ – the city’s strategic plan for inclusive and economic growth. The Arc will stitch together some of the most significant innovation assets in the North of England – including here at the Leeds General Infirmary.

We’re creating the world leading hub in Leeds, with the support of Leeds City Council, the University of Leeds and the private sector. It draws much of its inspiration from the brilliant academic talent at the University and the success of the Nexus business community, which has proved just how much can be done by working in collaboration and it’s given the Partnership a renewed energy and optimism.


Tell us about the Innovation Pop-up – who can participate and benefit?

Clinical entrepreneurs from across our region, the rest of the UK, and worldwide can receive support, project management and resources as well as workspace as they research and develop their healthcare-focused innovation. We help these entrepreneurs to transform the latest advances in science, technology and engineering into products and services that can solve health and care challenges facing Britain and the rest of the world. We launched our Innovation Pop Up a year ago and it has been a pleasure to see it become home to a growing collective of companies which benefit from access to clinical teams, tailored business support and resources and open-plan workspace, all designed to break down traditional barriers to adoption. We’ve already engaged with over one hundred companies, including entrepreneurs from Israel, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Taiwan and Japan.

It’s situated in the Gilbert Scott designed Leeds General Infirmary building, right at the heart of Leeds’ healthtech and academic cluster. We’re using it to further develop our innovation culture at the Trust, working with staff, partners and industry, as we prepare to regenerate our estate through our new hospital development plans.


What are your ambitions for Leeds as a centre for healthcare and medical technology?

Leeds is already home to some of the UK’s most exciting and powerful players in the emerging digital health sector. The latest research from West Yorkshire Combined Authority found that 22% of all digital health jobs in the UK are based in the Leeds City Region.

With a highly skilled workforce of 3 million people, a further 7 million people within an hour’s drive, and two world-class universities in close proximity – collectively we have an ever-growing pool of talent to fill this growing health and life sciences market.

We can really be a champion for the North of England. We have all the right parties at the table, as well as business talent and brain capacity in volumes – why wouldn’t you want to be a part of it? It’s a wonderful place to live and work – particularly as many people look to achieve a better work-life balance – and we’ve got a wealth of sports, arts, and culture to enjoy.

For a long time, LTHT has led the way in innovation with a series of national and international breakthroughs, including the UK’s first kidney dialysis, the world’s first double hand transplant, the development of the clinical thermometer, hip replacement surgery and the birth of modern emergency medicine. The Trust continues to be at the vanguard of research and innovation, both in the UK and around the world.

Earlier this month we were awarded £19.8million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) – the largest amount of research funding the Trust has ever received. This is for our partnership work with University of Leeds to translate scientific discoveries into new treatments, diagnostic tests, and medical technologies to improve patients’ lives. This increased funding to the NIHR Leeds Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) will capitalise on advances in technology, with the potential to improve patient outcomes and quality of care and represents an exciting step-change, to address urgent challenges of an ageing population, and the reality that patients do not live with just one disease but multiple conditions.

In the private sector, investors are increasingly recognising the attraction and can see the enormous potential here in the North of England for our greater contribution to UK plc. The Golden Triangle in the south is well established and will always attract funding, but we’re not competing with that. Investors who join our Partnership are securing a reputation for being part of something hugely significant for the city and for healthcare provision in the UK.

We’re showing how we can deliver different research and different, inspirational innovation in the health and social care space. And deliver we will – we don’t make false promises in the North of England: when we say we’re going to do something, we get our sleeves rolled up and get on with it.


What can businesses and entrepreneurs do to help?

Join our Innovation Pop Up, of course! We’ve been delighted to see the upsurge in interest and applications here at LTHT- but we do still need support in helping us to spread the word far and wide about the tremendous opportunity we have in Leeds. The message is being heard – I’m signing more Memorandum of Understandings and developing more new relationships as the vision and plans become bricks and mortar as well as a really powerful collaboration of skills and talent.

Entrepreneurs in health innovation should look at what the Innovation Pop Up has to offer and the wider support available through our Innovation Team. I was an SME once myself and I know how crucial it is to get the right financial guidance, marketing advice and to be able to network with people going through exactly the same thing.

Bright people who invent things and have a passion for innovation often don’t have balance sheets or marketing plans top of mind. They need to know the best networks, conferences and exhibitions for their product or service and the best routes to secure vital funding. Our Pop Up helps with all of that.


What role do communities such as Nexus play?

As part of the University, Nexus provides access to the wide skillset and range of expertise there. Clinical entrepreneurs often find that in addition to specific medical research and specialism, they need advice and input from other disciplines, such as engineering or the Business School, for example.

They also host some key industry events. I’m very much looking forward to being part of the Medtech Showcase event at Nexus on November 28 where innovators will be highlighting the vital work being done and discussing the challenges they face.

We’re also preparing for next year’s UK REiiF (Real Estate Investment & Infrastructure Forum) in May, which drives sustainable, inclusive, and transformational investment across the country. It’s a vital showcase for Leeds, partners and the Nexus business community will be a clear example of what can be achieved through effective collaboration.

And it is collaboration that is the key to all this. We’re all really good at doing things in our own right, but when we come together, we are so much greater than the sum of our parts. In partnership the voice is louder, the skillset bigger. It’s when we work together that the magic happens.

Explore more insights from our ‘the view from here’ series: