A £5 million project has been launched at Altyre which aims to use technology to make healthcare more accessible without putting barriers between people and doctors.
Launched at an event last week, the Moray Rural Centre of Excellence for Digital Health and Care Innovation, based at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) campus near Forres, will be funded with £5 million from the UK Government.
Representatives from the UK and Scottish Governments visited the campus to welcome the new initiative.
The Moray Centre is an offshoot of the Digital Health and Innovation Centre, ran by Strathclyde University and GSA.
Chief executive of the Digital Health and Innovation Centre George Crooks said the tools designed by the new centre would be focussed around improving rural healthcare.
He said: “The goal of the centre is to stop people having to take a 55 mile round trip to a hospital for a 10 minute appointment.
“It wastes everybody’s time when you have to take two hours off work for a 10 minute appointment simply to be told: ‘Keep doing everything you are doing, it is fine.’
“Instead, we could tell you either: ‘That’s fine’, or: ‘Could you take a couple of extra puffs of your inhaler each day.’
Mr Crooks was adamant that work done at the new centre would not be part of cuts to in-person healthcare.
He said: “The last thing we want to do is to use technology to put a barrier between a patient and their doctor or nurse.
“A lot of people accuse me of trying to engineer caring out of the health service – and that is far from it.
“We want to make sure face-to-face contact is available when and where it is necessary.”
Among the projects showcased was SCOTCAP, a new tool which will boost existing colonoscopy services.
SCOTCAP lets doctors examine intestines and colons of patients simply by them taking a tablet at home.
To help design future tools, there will also be five “Living Labs” which will engage with the Moray region.
Scotland Office Minister Iain Stewart MP said: “We signed the Moray Growth Deal virtually, so to be here in person is fantastic.
“I think this is a really exciting initiative, lots of people want to settle in more rural areas but that also has the potential disadvantage of being distant from healthcare, so I know there are lots of initiatives and new treatments available to do digital and also monitoring.
“This centre looks at how healthcare can be distributed equitably and I think that is going to be very important for more rural parts of the country.
“It is looking at these local investments that local areas want to see and trying to deliver something of value to the long term health of the community.
Richard Lochhead MSP said: “It is very exciting for the first of the eight projects in the Moray Growth Deal getting the go ahead.
“Particularly in the area of digital health and care because I think Moray is the perfect place for healthcare innovation.
“We are a large rural area but we also have towns and villages and the city of Elgin of course as well.
“So pioneering new technologies which can help care for people and improve health and deliver health services for the future, not just for Moray but Scotland and beyond, is great.
“It will also create good quality jobs in the future, as well as find new ways of looking after people.
“It really is a feather in Moray’s cap that we have one of Europe’s leading institutions, the GSA, is based on a campus here near Forres and they are now instrumental to bringing this new centre of excellence to Moray.
“So I think it is great that GSA have worked to bring this really, really prestigious project and investment to Moray.”
Moray Council Convener Marc Macrae said: “It is actually fantastic to see it come to fruition.
“For the future to be developed in Moray is a great thing for the county.
“I think it is very important, since Moray is a very rural community, that a lot of the work they are doing here is work that can benefit rural patients in their healthcare.
“Taking people along for the journey is something that is very important and the Glasgow School of Art and their campus here is very much a part of Moray now.
“Some of the new diagnostic tools actually excite myself actually because, as somebody diagnosed and disabled with a fairly complex ailment, I would be quite keen to try some of them myself.
“It could be happening in a dark room somewhere in Oxford or Cambridge, but it is happening here in the sunshine, outside Forres in Moray.”