Published on: 3 May 2019

A delegation from the city of Harbin in China has made a special visit to Sunderland to see the advances that the city has made in key areas of healthcare such as cardiovascular medicine, dementia care and how technology can be used to improve patient outcomes.

The visit, which was organised by Sunderland City Council saw representatives from Harbin First Hospital meet with staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital to discuss potential collaboration and sharing of best practice.

The delegation, which included the Director-General of Harbin Health Commission were keen to hear more about South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s plans across a range of clinical specialties.  They were also interested in the work the Trust is doing to help lead the digital transformation of the NHS as one of 17 acute Trust Global Digital Exemplars. The Trust is already completely paper free at point of care in its Emergency Department in Sunderland and is working to integrate patient information systems and new digital technologies across all of its sites, in both South Tyneside and Sunderland, for the benefit of patient care.

The delegation also visited Sunderland University to discuss its partnership with the Trust and the new medical school which will take its first intake of students in September 2019. The Trust also works closely with the university’s School of Nursing to develop home grown nursing talent.

Harbin, like Sunderland, has an ageing population and faces increasing pressures on its healthcare system due to a rise in age-related illnesses, such as dementia. Additional challenges include the changing dietary and lifestyle patterns of Harbin’s 10.9m population, meaning that health professionals have to adapt to a new demand on healthcare services.

It is hoped that by working with Sunderland counterparts, Harbin can discuss best practice and use this information and learning to develop future plans and development for the benefit of its growing communities.

Sunderland City Council and the Chinese city of Harbin signed an International Friendship Agreement ten years ago, which over the last decade has seen regular visits to and from each partner city to develop strong educational, cultural and business links between the two communities.

This latest visit, led by the Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, Patrick Melia, and Assistant Director of Economic Regeneration, Catherine Auld, will help further develop the successful Sunderland City Council led Foreign Commonwealth Office Development Fund Bid.

Peter Sutton, Executive Director of Planning and Business Development at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We were delighted to host colleagues from Harbin and to have the chance to discuss potential opportunities to work in collaboration in the future. Harbin has many of the same healthcare challenges as we facing in the NHS and with an increasing and ageing population, faces many of the same pressures that we have here.

“The work we are leading, right here in Sunderland to support patients with dementia and delirium and to develop world class cardiovascular services is already improving outcomes for thousands of patients across Sunderland and South Tyneside. This, alongside our digital transformation programme, is setting an exciting blueprint for the future of healthcare services and we are excited to be able to share this work with our counterparts Harbin First Hospital and in turn learn some valuable lessons from the work they do in China.”

Sunderland’s Director of Public Health, Gillian Gibson said: “The great thing about the International Friendship Agreement between our two cities is that it is constantly evolving, and as mutual understanding and appreciation continues to grow, so does our realisation that there are so many aspects of civic life we can work together to improve by sharing our views and experiences.

“That obviously includes health, and the Harbin delegation’s visit to Sunderland Royal Hospital is the latest development led by the Council to explore close collaboration and research within our respective hospitals and health care sectors.

“Our two cities share many similar challenges and learning how we both seek to address them through visits such as this is a vital part of that process, with many aspects of our City Plan particularly relevant in how we are working together in Sunderland to create a healthier, more cohesive and digitally enabled community.” 

Chief of Staff of Harbin CPC Committee, Mr Wang Wenli said: “The visit has been an excellent opportunity to meet with key representatives from the City Council, hospital, University and education partners. I am delighted that we have identified key areas of activity which we will be working closely together to develop and which will generate real benefits for the people of both communities.”