Internationally renowned expert says Scotland’s healthcare model ‘no longer fit for purpose in 21st Century’

Professor George Crooks OBE

THE head of a world-leading organisation dedicated to accelerating innovation in Scotland’s health and social care sector believes the need ‘has never been greater’ for a radical digital technology-driven modernisation of the nation’s approach to care in the face of unprecedented demand on services.

Professor George Crooks OBE, a renowned international digital health and care expert, was speaking after Scotland’s Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre (DHI) was awarded new funding by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) for at least the next 10 years. 

DHI, a pioneering initiative hosted by the University of Strathclyde in collaboration with GSA, marked its 10th anniversary last year. During that time the SFC and Scottish Government backed organisation – which brings partners in the commercial, academic, health and social care, and third sectors together to drive innovation and transformation in Scottish health and social care – has spearheaded major digital advances including accelerating Scotland’s response the Covid-19 pandemic; the pioneering £5m Rural Centre of Excellence in Moray; and the celebrated SCOTCAP outpatient gastroenterology technology. 

DHI has also helped attract an additional £30 million in direct and indirect investment from public and private sources into innovation in health and care in Scotland. 

As the organisation prepares to launch its new 10-year strategy, Prof Crooks, Chief Executive Officer at DHI, explained how the focus of health and social care in Scotland must shift towards personal empowerment – where individuals have greater control over their health and care requirements through effective use of their data – made possible by advances in digital technology.

The vision involves the ongoing health needs of individual Scots being recorded in a data cloud accessible to themselves and those who need it, providing scope for targeted care on a round-the-clock basis. The data could even be used to predict when care might be needed before a problem manifests in such a way that the health need becomes urgent.  

Professor Crooks, who began his medical career in 1977, said: “Growing waiting lists, ageing populations, difficulties recruiting staff, and a workforce that is still feeling the impact of pandemic and pressures of the health and care system are the realities in Scotland – but they are also global challenges not unique to this country. Demand is outstripping capacity and there has never been a greater urgency to do things differently. 

“Scotland’s medical model of care, that has served us very well for the past 150 years, is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century. We must move away from our existing approach to one where we listen to, activate, and empower our citizens to make better informed health and wellbeing choices supported by resources in their communities. 

“The only way that can happen is through the appropriate use of digital technologies allied to an understanding of the lived experience of people in Scotland, using our expertise to co-design with them, and tailoring services to meet their personal and local circumstances. That’s the crux of the knowledge, skills and experience DHI has acquired over the past 10 years.” 

He added: “In more than 40 years working in the NHS in Scotland, my experience is that the majority of investment in technology has always been to benefit the healthcare system or people working within it. The patients were only passive recipients of that, and this needs to change.

“It’s only in recent years, and as we look forward, that we have begun to invest in technology focused on the people of Scotland that will enable them to make better health and wellbeing choices. It will enable them to curate their own data and access appropriate services more easily and effectively, and relieve the pressure on frontline services.

“Scotland’s integrated health and social care environment is the perfect test bed for innovation, where digital advances can reduce the burden on service provision. After 10 years, DHI can help deliver real change at scale, and that’s why experts in nations around the world including Singapore, the Middle East, North America, and mainland Europe are looking to Scotland as leaders in this area.”

The £8m per year commitment from the SFC, which supports DHI and three other innovation centres in Scotland – Built Environment – Smarter Transformation (BE-ST); Industrial Biotechnology IC (IBioIC); and The Data Lab (TDL) – will ensure the organisation will continue to make an impact domestically and internationally, where connections have been built on digital health and care with prestigious global institutions including Harvard, MIT, and the European Commission. 

Educational institutions domestically have been central to DHI’s impact, with the organisation having worked effectively with 16 of Scotland’s 19 universities – including the creation of seven new digital health courses – and direct engagement with more than 60% of the nation’s colleges. 

The new funding has enabled DHI to set out seven priorities in its new 10 year plan – to transform health and social care; develop digital and data infrastructures as national assets; enhance Scotland’s connected ecosystem through cross sectoral innovation clusters; develop a future skills pipeline which delivers workforce capabilities fit for Scotland’s future; extend commercial engagement to support economic growth; health and care’s contribution to Net Zero targets; and enhance Scotland’s international reputation in R&I. 

Prof Crooks added: “In the beginning, DHI recognised innovation is like a child looking in the window of a sweet shop. With no focus or plan of what you want, why you want it, and what you want to do with it – you get a minute of pleasure and no lasting benefit. It was essential we focus the minds of the health and care system in Scotland – the government and those tasked with delivering it day-to-day. It was about how we can use advances in digital tech and data to transform services from their current state into a better future. 

“Ten years on we’ve learned and refined our innovation process – utilising networks and influencing policy – so now we can de-risk innovation to deliver tangible outcomes efficiently and effectively. However, technology is the apprentice to us, we are not slaves. It enables us to deliver expected impacts in a tolerable time frame, and how we use it will be pivotal over the next 10 years.”

Duncan Graham, Associate Principal and Executive Dean of Science from the University of Strathclyde, said ‘We’re delighted to continue hosting two of the innovation centres announced for funding in DHI and IBioIC. We look forward to supporting the positive impact for Scotland and beyond offered by both, with DHI spearheading the next generation of citizen-centred healthcare that is set to transform the lives of many.” 

Professor Irene McAra-McWilliam, Deputy Director Research & Innovation at The Glasgow School of Art, said: “Over the past 10 years The Glasgow School of Art has been a foundational part of the DHI initiative through the pioneering work at our creative innovation campus on the Altyre estate in Moray together with our team in Glasgow. We are extremely pleased to be able to continue to be key partners in the next chapter of world class innovations which will be supported by the announcement of this latest round of funding.” 

Helen Cross, Director of Research and Innovation at the Scottish Funding Council, said: “We are delighted to be continuing to support innovation in what is an increasingly important area for the future health and wellbeing of people in Scotland. I’m proud that SFC has been able to support DHI right from the start. I know that with our long-term commitment to innovation funding the Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre will continue to help the people of Scotland live longer, healthier lives and provide sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”

Fore more information on DHI and its work, visit

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