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The importance of partnership in health and care research

By Newcastle University
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Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP) - one of only eight Academic Health Science Centres in the UK - brings together leading research, NHS, and city partners to improve health and wealth across the region. We met with Professor David Burn, Director of NHIP, to reflect on how the organisation came to be and how it’s changing the face of partnership in health and care research.

Hi David! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your position within NHIP? 

Great to meet you! 

I’m currently Director of Newcastle Health Innovation Partners (NHIP), but have a long career history in numerous academic and NHS roles. My initial job was as a Consultant Clinical Neurologist, specialising in movement disorders. As my career progressed, I took on more leadership roles and became Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University in February 2017. 

I have been Director of NHIP since it came into being in April 2020, I chair its strategy board and I am responsible for delivering on its objectives. I have regular meetings with the Chief Operating Officer, where we discuss all matters strategic and operational. I also promote NHIP and its important work any way I can! 

Burn D (1)

Professor David Burn, Director of NHIP

Could you give us a bit of background about NHIP? 

Of course.

Newcastle Health Innovation Partners was designated as an Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) on 1 April 2020, by NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).   

Newcastle has a long and proud tradition of innovation in training and education for the UK’s health and care workforce. NHIP is now playing a role in shaping the future of research training and education for clinicians, health and care practitioners, and methodologists from a spectrum of disciplines.  

AHSCs are regional partnerships that have demonstrated excellence in health research, health education, and patient care, following a rigorous, international-panel assessment of their experience, capability, and proposed vision for translating cutting-edge research and innovation across the regional ecosystem, for patient and population benefit. Consideration is also given to partner CQC ratings and capabilities in education and training. 

There are eight designated AHSCs in England, with the current designation period running until 31 March 2025. Those eight AHSCs work closely with each other and with the NIHR infrastructure in their respective regions, with the main premise of each AHSC being such that it delivers ‘added value’ from collaborative working between partners: delivering activities that partner institutions cannot deliver alone and/or where a collaborative effort will provide a greater impact than the sum of the parts.  

The partners comprising NHIP are:  

  • The Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria
  • Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Newcastle City Council
  • Newcastle University
  • The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Northumbria University is also a valued affiliate partner. 

Who benefits from the work of NHIP? 

Because our work extends from collaborative research to clinician training, NHIP benefits a wide range of stakeholders, both locally and globally. 

These include patients and citizens who wish to see better health and care provision and outcomes, industry staff who wish to work collaboratively to create economic growth, and our own workforce who wish to stimulate innovation and development.   The government, the NHS, and the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) also benefit from improved patient outcomes and science. 

We need to collaborate, challenge existing dogma and knowledge limitations and shatter that ‘glass ceiling’ in discovering and applying novel means of prevention, diagnosis, and management. 

Do you have an example of a project NHIP is currently connected with? 

One of the projects that we're involved with is an application to the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund.  This is a major undertaking for a building centred around digitally-enabled care for everyone. The concept is based around three of our research pillars; ageing and multiple long-term conditions, rare diseases, and diagnostics.


If successful, the RPIF bid will kick start work as part of the University's Health Innovation Neighbourhood plans.
Another example of what we’re doing is working with The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and other organisations to explore ways of using big data, to better understand and improve the patient journey from community to hospital care. 
Being an AHSC is a mark of excellence on award applications and opens doors for new opportunities. Our successful bids are a 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. 

Who are the groups that you work with to achieve your goals?  

Our stakeholders include patients, citizens, academic and clinical staff, and a wide range of organisations at regional, national, and international levels, including NHIP partners and city-wide collaborations such as Collaborative Newcastle.

NHIP is keen to strengthen its national and international profile which is done through a number of collaborations with other AHSCs in England and internationally through the Association of Academic Health Science Centres. 

Why is collaborative work essential to improving patient care? 

Collaborative working is absolutely essential. Without it, you would potentially hit a ‘glass ceiling’ in terms of how you manage the patient. We need to collaborate, challenge existing dogma and knowledge limitations and shatter that ‘glass ceiling’ in discovering and applying novel means of prevention, diagnosis, and management. 

Striving to speed up research and innovation for public benefit is built on the range and diversity of our collaborative working. 

One example of this lies in tackling important prevention issues, particularly in our area where health inequalities are so stark. We've got multiple hospital trusts in our region that are Care Quality Commission-rated Outstanding on successive occasions, and yet the population statistics around healthy life years, smoking, maternal smoking, alcohol consumption, and abuse, and other health measures don’t reflect this excellence. There’s a huge disconnect, and by collaborating across health and social care we can try to understand better what is going on and how the right research can help.

NHIP plays a major role in shaping the future of research training for clinicians and health and care practitioners. Can you tell us more about the NHIP Academy? 

Newcastle has a long and proud tradition of innovation in training and education for the UK’s health and care workforce. NHIP is now playing a role in shaping the future of research training and education for clinicians, health and care practitioners, and methodologists from a spectrum of disciplines. 

Through the NHIP Academy, we support the next generation of researchers and academic leaders in health and care to access career development opportunities. The Academy operates across the spectrum of health and care research and at all stages from pre-doctoral onwards. 

NHIP also works to improve digital literacy across the healthcare and research workforce. What does this mean for clinicians and health and care practitioners? 

In an increasingly data-driven world, digital literacy is becoming vital to research funders, clinicians in practice, and healthcare employers. There is already so much data that can be used to inform treatment and studies, but researchers and healthcare professionals need to be able to extract, manipulate and interpret it so that it can be used to develop effective treatments. 

Our working group is bringing together key colleagues across the region to establish what is on offer, and what else is needed. We’re also developing short courses funded by the Office for Students.

What does NHIP’s work on data training mean for the general public? 

The more that staff are able to use and interpret data, the more they can use it to inform change for the good of public health. 

How do you ensure that citizen care is rooted at the heart of everything NHIP does? 

Our original application for designation was focused on how we can help the social and health care aspects of communities, be that directly or indirectly, for example, through the training given to clinicians and health and care staff that face patient issues head-on. 

Now we are accredited, we are working to ensure citizens are at the heart of our collaborative agenda by investing in roles that bring expertise to ensure effective citizen engagement, involvement, and participation. 

And finally, in just a few words, what is the future vision and next step for NHIP? 

We stated in our application that by 2025, NHIP aimed to become the most integrated and innovative AHSC in the world. I feel we are well on the way to delivering this aim, despite the impacts of the pandemic. 

By sharing regular impact reports, news stories, feedback from stakeholders, and patient and population stories, NHIP aims to lead locally and provide global-level exemplars, evidencing its impact on the ecosystem. 

With a combined annual turnover in excess of £2 billion, over 35,000 employed staff, 600 researchers and a population of 3.2 million to serve, our results are reflected in our research, education, patient care and a proven track record in addressing regional inequalities. 

How can clinicians and health and care workers find out more about the work of NHIP? 

The easiest way is to visit our website – there you can find out more about our strategy, training, research, and latest news. You can even contact us through there too. 

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Tags: Working with Business, Research, Research Excellence, Ageing and Health