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Health North: A step in the right direction for addressing health equity in the North of England?

21st April 2015

Our health and social care systems are at a crossroads and of the wide-ranging health challenges currently facing the UK, one of the most unsettling issues is the persistent health inequalities experienced by populations across the North of England. This is not new news and politicians have long tried to address these concerns.   However, inequalities have still persisted, so much so that the North of England is now the cancer capital of Europe and approximately 40,000 people die prematurely in the North compared to the South each year.

Whilst the health challenges of the North are well known, something the public and those in Westminster are less aware of are the North’s strengths in research and development of new healthcare technologies and treatments.  Few know that the North of England currently has over 100,000 students enrolled in life sciences programs and is also responsible for manufacturing 13% of all new EU biopharmaceuticals.  In addition, the North is also home to over 1,000 life science businesses, supports approximately 38,000 high skilled jobs and has a turnover of £10.8billion underpinned by world leading science and technology.

This is something that the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA), a network of the leading Northern universities, teaching hospitals, Trusts and Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), has been working hard to champion in order to address the important health challenges facing the North.

The NHSA believes that the North can act as a successful test bed site for the UK, capitalising on our world class scientists as well as our real world patient populations to provide solutions to the growing health inequalities in the UK.  Currently, 37% of the UK’s clinical trial patients come from the North. In addition, two of the top five hospitals with the best recruitment for clinical trials are based in the North. This is why the NHSA is working to help industry to conduct large scale clinical trials, such as the Salford Lung Study currently being run with GSK.

However, for too long though, R&D investment in the North has lagged behind the rest of the UK, with investments frequently being made in the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge in the South of England.  This is despite the majority of the health problems experienced in Northern patient populations. We believe that the time is right for the NHSA to interrupt this cycle of investment for the South and shine a spotlight on the capabilities in the North for life sciences research and investment.

We were pleased then to see the Government take the first steps in addressing this imbalance by establishing the “Health North” programme in January to unlock healthcare innovations in the English regions with the greatest health challenges.  This was followed by the announcement of £20million for the programme by the Chancellor in his final Budget before the General Election, to establish a scalable pilot network of “Connected Health Cities” across the North to be run by the NHSA.  We are delighted to deliver and be a part of this important programme of work, which will assemble data, experts and technology in secure locations to generate new information that will shape health and social care services to deliver better outcomes for patients and communities.

The Connected Health Cities will allow us to follow patients through different services and extract information from many different organisations and databases. This will be a world first in civic partnerships sharing existing information to improve health and social care.  Through our network, expertise and collaborations across industry, academia and the NHS, we as the NHSA believe that the “Health North” programme will help to rebalance the health inequities between the North and South of England by delivering innovation in healthcare to benefit the patient population in the North of England.

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