Kent & Medway’s first ever Women’s Health Innovation Summit took place last week (6th March), bringing together local leaders to revolutionise women’s health and close the gender health gap. 

The sold-out summit attracted 130 women’s health experts and was held at The Pears Building at the Kent and Medway Medical School, in Canterbury. The Kent & Medway Women’s Health Summit marks the start of a partnership between NHS Kent and Medway, Kent and Medway Medical School (KMMS), Health Innovation Kent Surrey Sussex (Health Innovation KSS) and leading research and development site, Discovery Park. 

Key speakers included Dr. Kate Langford, Chief Medical Officer at NHS Kent & Medway ICB, Dr. Maryann Ferreux, Medical Director, Health Innovation KSS, Professor Chris Holland, Founding Dean, KMMS, Jane Kennedy, Chief Business Officer at Discovery Park and Natasha Walton, Deputy Director Digital Diagnostics & Transformation at NHS England. 

Dr Kate Langford, Chief Medical Officer and Women’s Health Champion for NHS Kent and Medway, said: “We’ve heard some very difficult stories about women’s experiences and the data shows that despite living longer, the average woman spends nearly a quarter of her life in poor health, compared with a fifth of men. Partnership is key to change, and Kent and Medway’s first ever Women’s Health Summit demonstrates our commitment to improving the health of women.”

Speakers highlighted that addressing women’s health and closing the gender health gap requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the complexities of individuals’ experiences. Intersectionality, which considers how various social identities intersect and shape these experiences, is crucial to this.

Menopause, mental health and cardiovascular care were topics of key focus at the event, highlighted as areas of unmet need, with alarming statistics revealing that women are twice as likely to die of a heart attack compared to men. Furthermore, a lack of research and data is a driver for the gender health gap, with five times more research conducted on erectile dysfunction, which affects 19% of men, than on premenstrual syndrome, which affects 90% of women

The aim of the new partnership, the Kent & Medway Innovation Hub, is to create a vibrant innovation ecosystem that fosters breakthrough ideas, empowers people and our workforce, and positively impacts the health and well-being of individuals and communities. The learnings from this event, including the findings from the breakout sessions on menopause, mental health and cardiovascular care, will play a key role in codesigning the hub and better understanding the problems that need to be solved in the system. The findings will also inform the creation of a women’s health hub in Kent & Medway, as part of the national women’s health strategy.

Also launched at the summit was a special edition of Discovery Park’s growth programme for early stage businesses, ‘Discovery Spark’. This offers support for new businesses working in FemTech and women’s health, with tailored mentoring and learning. Open for applications now, accepted companies will compete to win a support package worth over £50K, including 1 year of lab or office space at Discovery Park, alongside invaluable support from healthcare partners, Barclays Eagle Labs and six specialist prize partners. 

Summit speaker Dr MaryAnn Ferreux, Medical Director at Health Innovation KSS, said: “Collaboration will be key to designing and delivering revolutionary healthcare for women. The summit showcased the vibrant healthcare innovation ecosystem in Kent and Medway, from students and clinicians, to academics, to start-ups like Adora and Feebris and big companies like AWS. Discovery Spark is the next step in this journey, providing valuable support to promising start-ups improving health outcomes for women.” 

To enter Discovery Spark, start-up companies must be working in FemTech or addressing Women’s Health with a demonstrated proof of concept and have raised less than £1 million in investment. The programme is open to both male and female founders. The deadline for applications is 5th April, with the next cohort beginning on 21st May. 

Applicants should enter on the Discovery Park website, which also includes terms and conditions.