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The Usher Institute – “Better health, better futures”

Scotland has some of the best health and social care data in the world. With a Community Health Index number for each person, we can link high quality data from birth to death. These data can be analysed to inform quality improvements in our health and social care provision, as well as providing evidence to empower people to make healthy life choices.

Led by Director Professor Aziz Sheikh, the Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh works with people, populations and their data to catalyse the transformation of health in society. We seek innovative ways to address pressing issues in health and social care: conducting world-leading research; connecting with communities of policy makers, practitioners, patients and publics to create, develop and share knowledge; and teaching the next generation of leaders in data-driven health care.

A truly visionary Institute within the Edinburgh Medical School at the University of Edinburgh, the Usher Institute is taking a leading role in driving forward data-driven innovation in health and social care in Scotland.

Rich heritage

We have a rich heritage to build upon. The Usher Institute was home to the first Chair of Public Health in the UK in 1898. This innovation can be traced back to famous French biologist, Louis Pasteur – who visited Edinburgh in 1884 to celebrate the University of Edinburgh’s 300th birthday. Shocked at the public health situation in Edinburgh at the time he spoke with local businessmen – Andrew Low Bruce and Sir John Usher – who jointly agreed to fund the new Chair of Public Health at the University, to lead an evidence-based approach to improving public health in the region.

The first Usher Institute building, in Marchmont, Edinburgh, funded by Sir John Usher

Public Health now

Fast-forward 120 years and the Usher Institute can again be found at the forefront of innovative research to improve public health in Scotland. The ‘Bruce and John Usher Chair of Public Health’ still exists today. It is currently held by Professor Linda Bauld who, in addition to her work at the University, works closely with Cancer Research UK to drive forward cancer prevention initiatives including the recent campaign highlighting obesity as the second biggest cause of cancer after smoking.

Professor Bauld was recently awarded a major grant known as ‘SPECTRUM’ to investigate key factors that limit people’s chances to live longer, healthier lives. Findings will be used to inform public health policies aimed at addressing smoking and alcohol consumption, as well as tackling excess weight gain and obesity.

"SPECTRUM intends to address some of the most controversial questions facing the health of our population. To reduce diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases we need to address their main preventable causes. To do so means introducing and enforcing public health policies that often clash with the business interests of very profitable companies.

SPECTRUM aims to produce research that can rise to this challenge. This research will be used by our partners outside of academia, who will be active members of SPECTRUM, to make the case for effective policy and practice to improve health and address inequalities in the UK and further afield."

Professor Linda Bauld - Head of Centre for Population Health Sciences at the Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh
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Data-Driven Innovation

Looking forward, The University of Edinburgh is a Partner in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. This £1.3 billion investment from the UK and Scottish Governments and regional partners aims to accelerate productivity and inclusive growth through the funding of infrastructure, skills and innovation.

The Usher Institute is one of five Data-Driven Innovation ‘hubs’ as part of this programme. It will drive health and social care innovation at scale by integrating the activities of: clinicians, life scientists and data scientists to identify new, co-produced insights in identified areas of challenge; and industry and public sector organisations to extract, apply and commercialise expert knowledge.

Expanding rapidly, the Usher Institute is building on a strong base of expertise in working with large-scale health data. For example, Professor Cathie Sudlow, Head of the Centre of Medical Informatics at the Usher Institute, leads the Health Data Research UK Scotland site – part of a UK-wide initiative uniting the UK’s health data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives.

Professor Nick Mills recently led the largest randomised trial in cardiovascular disease delivered entirely through electronic healthcare data, supported by our Clinical Trials Unit. In the study, known as ‘HighSTEACS’, more than 48,000 consecutive patients presenting with chest pain were all enrolled. The study led to an overall reduction in length of hospital stay for patients with acute chest pain by a third.

Future at Edinburgh BioQuarter

Proposed design of new Usher Institute building at Edinburgh BioQuarter

Located at the Edinburgh BioQuarter, a new building for the Usher Institute will bring together our truly multi-disciplinary team of researchers, clinicians, educators and trialists. The building will be open to the public and we look forward to engaging with people from across Scotland and beyond to work together to transform health and care in society – as we say, ‘Better health, better futures’.

Susan Buckingham | Communications Manager, Usher Institute.

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