21 January 2014 15:19

A key appointment to a new regional NHS organisation will ensure Lancaster University is at the forefront of health care transformation.

Lancaster University’s Professor of Musculoskeletal Science John Goodacre has just taken up the major role of Medical Director for the new North West Coast Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) – one of 15 AHSNs recently set up by the NHS across England.

The networks aim to transform healthcare, benefitting both patients and economic growth.

Their role is to establish and support partnerships between the NHS, universities, industry, local enterprise partnerships and other organisations to enhance knowledge exchange, collaborative research and professional training and development with the aim of increasing the amount, rate, scale, quality and take-up of innovation in the NHS.

“What this means in real terms for Lancaster University is that we will be even more forward facing and involved in a significant new piece of NHS infrastructure – involving all Faculties,” explains Professor Goodacre, who is also the Co-Director of the Faculty of Health and Medicine’s Collaborative Partnerships initiative, which supports strategic partnerships with the public and private sector in research and professional development.

He said the significant progress of health and medicine at the University in recent years meant Lancaster could now lead such initiatives.

“Five years ago this probably would all have happened without Lancaster’s contribution,” added Professor Goodacre. “This is a real marker. We now have a key role in shaping regional strategy and policy around this agenda”.

“Lancaster University is well placed because it is ‘joined up’ and has a breadth of skills across a wide range of disciplines. Engagement with the AHSN will encourage and make it so much easier for new partnerships to emerge, and for new approaches to develop, for example through cross-sectoral secondments.”

By building strong relationships with regional scientific and academic communities and industry, it is envisaged the AHSNs could provide a more systematic delivery mechanism so that innovation spreads quickly and successfully throughout the NHS, making the best possible use of resources and ensuring the most advanced treatments, technologies and medicines are available to all patients.

“In short, this is a step change in the way the NHS translates research into innovation and best practice, leading to effective and cost effective treatments and services for patients,” added Professor Goodacre.

He will work with all nine NW universities and NHS organisations, including the 40 NHS and primary care trusts, in the North West Coast area, which includes Lancashire, Cheshire, South Cumbria and Merseyside, to establish the infrastructure and ensure delivery of the AHSN strategy.

“We want to ensure that the North West Coast is recognised as a real ‘go-to’ place to make things to happen,” added Professor Goodacre. “The idea is to bring all the stakeholder enterprises together to enhance the scope and impact of our work. This will enable an holistic approach to innovation, dealing with the ability of industry to work with universities to generate early stage innovations, to improve test systems and to enhance the ability of the NHS to take up new devices, new technologies and new ways of working.”

Professor Goodacre said the AHSN would take a broad approach in which some of the work would be about the innovations themselves while other work would focus on organisational ethos and capability.

“Our job is to join up other parts of the infrastructure to make it easy for industry to work with the public sector on research and innovation, providing clarity, systems integration and the facilitation of major funding bids,” he added.

“This is the first time everyone has recognised that it’s not just about getting industry to work here but to enable something to happen at the end of it - that is enabling the NHS to take up, use and benefit from the innovations. In turn, this will fuel and drive further improvements in the next generation of innovations.

“The NHS is full of brilliant people with brilliant ideas. To spread those ideas across the NHS means working collaboratively with all those who have an interest. “

All nine North West Coast universities took part in an AHSN strategy planning summit last week.

*Professor Goodacre will continue his current roles at Lancaster University and as Honorary Consultant in Rheumatology at the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.