By Dave Baldwin
With his cheerful style and approachable manner, Dr Amir Khan is helping to change audience perceptions of medicine through his starring role in the recent TV show GPs Behind Closed Doors. The Bradford family doctor is also a lively and positive presence on social media.
In a recent post, Dr Khan relayed the following story: “Saw a young boy today who said he wanted to be a doctor but said people from ‘round here’ don’t get to be doctors. I told him: I grew up round the corner from here. Dad was a bus driver, Mum started as a cleaner and seamstress. If I can do it, so can you – just work hard.”
The best thing about social media is the ability to share inspiring messages such as these. In response, Kersten England, the chief executive of Bradford Council, said: “Couldn’t agree more. In Bradford, we believe people can start anywhere and go everywhere. We want all our children to have dreams and ambition and support to achieve them. Thank you for playing your part. It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
It certainly does. At the Bradford Economic Partnership, we are working hard to grow our district economy, generate new employment opportunities and improve the skills of residents. We have made some great progress to date by creating thousands of new jobs and increasing wages but some big challenges remain, especially in health and wellbeing.
Bradford is the sixth largest city in the UK with a multi-ethnic population of more than 500,000 people. We know that parts of the district have considerable levels of deprivation and some of the highest rates of childhood illness in the UK. For the young boy in Dr Khan’s story to succeed, he needs to have a healthy start in life.
This is why the Born in Bradford project is so important. It is working to unravel the reasons for ill health and bring new scientific discovery to the world. It is also providing a catalyst for communities to work with the NHS and local authority to improve child health and wellbeing. The project is following the progress of 30,000 Bradford families to find out what influences the health and wellbeing.
The discoveries are potentially scalable. The Glasses for Classes programme is just one example of impact: pupils aged four to five in 100 primary schools across England are now taking part in a research trial to improve maths and reading skills through the provision of eyewear. It is estimated that 2,500 children in Bradford need glasses but aren’t wearing them, which is affecting their educational attainment.
Born in Bradford is one of the largest research studies in the world and is attracting international attention as well as investment (£30m and counting to date). Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the £26bn research charity Wellcome Trust, will be visiting the district later this month to launch the Born in Bradford scientific festival. Taking place at Salts Mill in Saltaire on September 27, the festival will share new findings about how society, lifestyles, genes and the environment shape our lives.
The health and social care sector offers many employment opportunities in our district. The new Industrial Centre of Excellence for Health and Social Care is giving 14-19 year-olds a taste of different vocations in the sector and the vast potential for fulfilling and rewarding careers. Like many of the best things happening in Bradford, it is the result of partnership working; in this case between stakeholders including Bradford Council, local NHS trusts, social care providers, schools, colleges and the University of Bradford.
Bradford isn’t alone in facing big health and social care challenges. To entrepreneurs and innovators, these challenges present opportunities. The Digital Health Enterprise Zone at the university is linking academic research with business growth and supporting startups, SMEs and scale-ups in emerging fields such as digital health, data analytics and technology-enabled care. Innovations that are discovered and developed here can be rolled out across the world.
By working together, we will help reduce health inequalities, create new business and employment opportunities and give everyone the chance to succeed in life, like the young boy at Dr Khan’s practice who dreamed of being a doctor but thought it wasn’t for him. * Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club