Professor David Burn, Director of NHIP, reflects on our first three years as an Academic Health Science Centre

Professor David Burn

I am pleased to launch our new series of blogs today (31 March 2023), which marks three years since Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP) was designated as an Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC). It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with our committed partners during this time and to witness first hand our exceptional ability to work collaboratively on projects that aim to improve the lives of patients and citizens.

I can vividly remember the exhilaration felt by myself and our partner organisations at the news of our designation by NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) as an AHSC. It was exceptional that we were one of only two new AHSCs across the country, set to join the other six prestigious AHSCs in existence.

This was back in March 2020 and the Covid 19 pandemic has, of course, been a defining feature of these past three years.  Whilst we were unable to truly celebrate the good news of our designation during this unprecedented time – it is important to acknowledge that this was a huge achievement and very much down to the commitment and hard work of so many dedicated individuals across the partnership. Our status as an AHSC is a badge of honour to be proud of, as it recognises and celebrates the excellent standard of world class research in our area, on both a national and international stage.

NHIP is crucially over halfway through our period of accreditation and so it is an important time for us to not only reflect on all of our collaborative achievements to date, but also consider how we can develop and scale up our approach going forwards.

I am very privileged to work with some exceptional organisations and individuals as part of my Director’s role for NHIP. Notably, our board which has representation not only from partner leadership teams, but from our local and regional NIHR infrastructure, including the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), that received a renewal award during our accreditation period, and our newly awarded NIHR Patient Safety Research Collaboration (PSRC).  It has been fantastic to see new Chief Executive colleagues bring the same commitment to our collaboration as those departing.

We were all pleased to welcome new faces to our team, including Hannah Powell as our new Chief Operating Officer. Hannah joined us from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where she has spent ten years as Directorate Manager and brings with her invaluable knowledge from within the partnership.

I am extremely proud of the awards and grants we have received over the past three years in recognition of our world leading research environment, particularly the major funding boost of £28.4m from the NIHR to support specialist research facilities for scientists, where experimental medicine and patient safety research can thrive.

This included £23.1m to the BRC for its world-leading research in ageing and multiple long-term conditions. The investment is supporting a five-year programme delivered by our partners Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust to better understand and treat a range of conditions.

It also included £5.3m to fund a PSRC – which aims to deliver visible research that results in real-world, transformative change for patient safety and health outcomes for those with multiple long-term conditions (MLTCs). This involves experts at both Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and will contribute enormously to further strengthening collaborations between academics, clinicians, patients and the life sciences industry. In addition, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) hosts the NIHR funded Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) for the North East and North Cumbria, which includes all six universities in our region and sixty health and care organisations. The ARC, has £17.5m for work on care system priorities and is national topic lead for Prevention and Inequalities, convening two consortia of all 15 ARCs working together on these key areas of need across England.

Our successful bids are testament to the fact that we are stronger together, through links made in NHIP, and have impacts far beyond what may have been achieved in silos.  This also reflects that our designation as an AHCS is a mark of excellence and therefore opens doors for potential new opportunities. An example that reflects this within the work we do in research education and training was a grant of £90,463 to develop digital skills in healthcare by the Office for Students (OfS), as part of the Higher Education Short Course pilot (HESC).

Thanks to collaborative working, I am proud to say that this grant enabled us to develop one of the first courses in Digital Healthcare, drawing on our significant expertise in industry-academic co-development of data science and clinical education. Participating in the pilot allowed us to develop two modules, giving people the opportunity to learn using ‘real-world’ case studies developed with our NHS partners and clinical teaching team, who have over 20 years’ experience of teaching clinical programmes. The pilot has now ended and I’m pleased to say that the materials developed will be shared with colleagues with a view to utilizing them in CPD and other programmes offered by the University.

This award is also testament to Newcastle’s long and proud tradition of training and education in health and care, and NHIP is dedicated to unlocking career development opportunities for the next generation of health and care researchers. I am therefore very much looking forward to the launch of NHIP Academy next month, entitled ‘Careers Reimagined.’ The day is set to include several prestigious speakers, talking about research careers and the opportunities they can bring, as well as inspirational first-hand accounts from individuals on their own research career pathway.

NHIP Academy is our flagship research education and training vehicle, which we see developing as a leader in the field both nationally and internationally – I would encourage everyone to find out more about our Academy at the launch event here.

Looking forwards, it is important to acknowledge the reality that the world has changed substantially since we were first accredited back in 2020 – not least because we now have an Integrated Care Board for the North East and North Cumbria, with whom we hope to work more closely around data science and opportunities to improve public health and inequalities.

As we look back over the last few years and look ahead to what NHIP will bring in the future, now is an opportune time to reflect on the partnership and our collaborative efforts and achievements. I look forward to seeing what the next few years bring and would like to thank each and every one of our partners for their continued focus and support.

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