Shropshire Council has welcomed the award of Government funding to support a two-year project that will examine how emerging 5G technology can be used to deliver health and social care services in rural areas – including parts of Shropshire.
The council is one of the partners in the ‘West Mercia Rural 5G’ project, which will start on 1 April 2020 and focus on innovative ways to deploy 5G networks in rural areas, especially on the borders where Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire meet.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has today (Thursday 20 February 2020) announced the award of £3.3m to Worcestershire County Council who will be the accountable body for the project.
The project will explore infrastructure challenges when planning, building and operating a rural 5G network, and how 5G can enhance services for the benefit of residents, particularly in the areas of health and social care.
Led by Worcestershire County Council, other partners in the project include local NHS organisations, alongside Airband and Three – who will plan, build and operate the 5G network. University Centre Shrewsbury, The University of Worcester, and West Midlands Academic Health Science Network are providing their expert support across the project.
The pilot area for Shropshire is likely to be located near to Ludlow, and will be chosen based on the adjoining county borders and current telecommunications infrastructure.
The West Mercia Rural 5G project primarily focuses on ‘health and social care’ applications, particularly ‘assistive technology’, and brings together two distinct challenges:
- How the mobile industry in the UK deploys 5G in rural areas at pace, but also at reasonable cost.
- How councils, Clinicial Commissioning Groups and other care providers in rural areas find new models for delivery when funding is stretched due to increasing demand.
Lee Chapman, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for organisational transformation and digital infrastructure, said:
“Whilst we still need to do further work with Worcestershire County Council on the detail of our council’s involvement, this project offers Shropshire Council a significant opportunity and is very positive news.
“At a time of increasing demand for public services, improvements in connected technologies offer new ways of working that can help maintain and improve service delivery and quality of life for our residents and our businesses.
“With a range of new assistive technologies being developed, improved connectivity will enable and allow new technologies that lead to potential improvements in key services and previously unviable new services.
“This project will help us to explore how 5G and associated technologies could support community care and improve quality of lives, as well as improve access and connectivity between health and care services and professionals.
“We’ll be engaging closely with Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group and encouraging their participation in the project, and will co-ordinate the project with all digital health care and assistive technology work currently being undertaken within Shropshire Council.”
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said:
“We want the UK to be a world-leader in 5G which means making sure the countryside isn’t left behind in the digital revolution.
“We’ve invested £3.3 million in this project to explore how we can harness the power of 5G connectivity to transform health and social care for rural communities across Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.”
Key to the project is to test how existing telecommunication and public assets can be cost-effectively repurposed for 5G deployment across very rural areas.
- The project consortium includes Worcestershire County Council, Shropshire Council, Airband, Herefordshire and Worcestershire STP, Three Mobile, The University of Chester, The University of Worcester, and the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network
- Worcestershire County Council will be the lead authority for the project. A governance board will be put in place with representatives from all partners
- The project will work closely with West Midlands Combined Authority, who have the Urban Connected Communities project.
- The project is valued at £5.8m, with £3.3m Grant funding coming from DCMS. The balance of funding will come from ‘in kind match’ and ‘private funding’. Shropshire Council will not need to contribute any public funding or ‘match funding’ to this project.