Tell us about your work in public health

My first job was with Options, a subsidiary of Marie Stopes International. One programme I worked on was in Nigeria at the start of a flagship £150 million health development project.

I was doing advocacy work with patients and users, beneficiaries of the health system. It involved working with community groups to understand maternal and reproductive health needs. The data informed policy and programme decisions.

I then took my PhD work at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, focusing on health equity and looking at financing of reproductive and maternal health systems in Cambodia. I spent a year in Cambodia evaluating a programme which gave vouchers to rural women to help them access health services.

This experience was invaluable and I returned to Marie Stopes International as senior health financing advisor looking after programmes across 13 countries including included Sierra Leone, Uganda, Pakistan and India. I was supporting the implementation teams and trying to establish minimum standards the voucher programmes.

I then returned to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a research fellow, tracking and estimating the amount of aid spent globally on reproductive and maternal, child and adolescent Health and looking at funding gaps.

But then came a big change?

I started my own family and was a freelance consultant for some years. After experiencing post natal depression I started on a journey where I wanted to look after my own mental health and wellbeing. I began thinking about how you make sure you are well and stay well, mentally and emotionally.

I was drawn to things like mindfulness and meditation and, after a while, took it further and trained as a teacher in mindfulness. Most of my work was with businesses.

Where did the interest in health data science come from?

I spent a lot of time attending conferences and networking events. It really opened my eyes to the explosion of tech-based innovation – people creating products, services and modes of delivery that were very, very innovative.

It was very different from the model I was using, which was traditional and kind of analogue. I met someone who was developing a mental health virtual reality product. The content was similar to what I was providing, but in this amazing VR space.

This got me thinking about the potential for delivering this kind of work. I had hit a capacity ceiling, working in person with individuals and small groups. This kind of technology would mean there were no limits. It could massively increase the reach.

That whet my appetite for thinking about health through a tech lens.

There’s such incredible potential for technology to reduce health inequalities and overcome service delivery barriers.

All this made me want to jump into a more data science driven space where there was a strong emphasis on innovation.

What will the new role involve?

I will be supporting two new regional Digital Health Hubs – NortHFutures in the North East of England, and LEAP in the South West. They are operating right at the overlap between tech and data science research.

They are funded by the EPSRC and aim to drive innovation in digital health by promoting knowledge and skills sharing across healthcare, academia and business sectors.

They are big partnerships between the main universities NHS trusts, industry partners and also HDR UK.

HDR UK’s remit is to provide training and capacity building.

It’s a very exciting prospect.

  • See Dr Dingle’s biography here.