A new government £16 million health improvement programme in the North East and North Cumbria has been awarded to a collaboration led by Newcastle University and hosted by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
The programme will be funded by NIHR who recently announced its funding for Applied Research Collaborations (ARCs) to tackle key issues facing our health and social care system, including increasing demands on services due to an ageing population and aspects linked to austerity.
A collaboration between universities, the NHS, local authorities, voluntary organisations, charities and businesses will tackle issues causing health and care inequalities in the region. These will include developing ideas which will try to give children the best start in life and which help keep people healthier at home for longer.
It is the first time that the North East and North Cumbria has received this funding. It will be used to support researchers, practitioners and members of the public who will work together to improve health and also shape how care is delivered.
Improving health and wellbeing
Themes will focus on aspects such as prevention of poor health, staying healthy with long-term conditions, supporting children and families, integrating health and social care for physical and mental health difficulties, inequalities across communities, using new technology and information to improve lives.
Professor Eileen Kaner and Dr Chris Price, from Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, are leading the project, which involves 56 organisations in the North East and North Cumbria.
Professor Kaner said: “We are excited about receiving this funding because of the new opportunities it will bring to improve the health and wellbeing of people in the area.
“Our region has challenges due to its geography and there are more health problems that need to be addressed than other parts of the country. Therefore, it is apt that we have been asked by the NIHR to take a national lead on prevention and also on health inequalities.
“The ARC funding allows researchers to focus on the biggest health and social issues in our area and develop real solutions that reflect the needs and views of people living here.
“Much of the work will focus on the lives of people in the community rather than in hospital, especially people with common long-term physical and mental health problems.”
The ARCs vision for the North East and North Cumbria is to achieve ‘better, fairer health and care at all ages and in all places’.
The core funding provided by the NIHR is £9 million for five years, however, regional partners have contributed an additional £7 million.
Understanding patients’ needs
Views of patients, their families and members of the public will be sought so that the ARC projects reflect problems that are important to local communities.
John Lawlor, Chief Executive of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’re extremely pleased to have been awarded this funding, and especially excited that this is the first time the North East has been part of an NIHR Applied Research Collaboration.
“This funding will support health, care and wellbeing across the region through research, with academic partners, which addresses health inequalities and contributes to making the North East a better, healthier place to live.”
The ARC will allow the development of a new team of 23 junior and 11 senior trainee researchers working across universities, healthcare and social care to improve the quality of life for people in the region.
Dr Price said: “The ARC will help NHS and social care organisations to provide better care for people in our region by understanding the experience of individuals and developing ideas that will try to keep people healthier at home for longer.
“To create the ARC, there has already been great teamwork between six regional universities, many hospitals, General Practices, local authorities and community organisations that provide physical and mental healthcare, or support people with these problems.
“The ARC will work in partnership with the new Integrated Care System to prevent and tackle poor physical and mental health in all areas across our region.”
There will be 15 ARCs across England, each aiming to improve the lives of people in their region, together they will tackle some of the biggest health issues facing the country. The government is giving a total of £135 million to the ARCs.
Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: “As the population grows and demand on the NHS increases, it is paramount we develop the next generation of technologies and improve the way we work to ensure the NHS continues to offer world-leading care.
“The UK has a proud history of cutting edge health research and by supporting the great minds in health and social care, this funding has the potential to unlock solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing healthcare and revolutionise the way patients access treatments in the future.”
Great example of collaboration
One project that will be rolled out across the North East and North Cumbria, as part of the ARC, is a scheme which has successfully doubled the number of pregnant women who quit smoking.
Although many women are aware of the dangers of smoking while pregnant, some need additional support to help stop smoking during pregnancy.
A smoking cessation programme, known as babyClear©, is a key example of cross-sector collaboration that has involved a variety of experts involved in public health issues.
BabyClear© follows the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance around smoking in pregnancy by screening pregnant women for smoking using carbon monoxide monitoring.
Any woman still smoking when she first sees a midwife, at around eight weeks into pregnancy, is given information about the risks to their unborn baby and put in contact with agencies that can help support her to quit.
Research revealed that in a study of 40,000 mothers-to-be, the number of women helped to stop smoking due to babyClear© almost doubled.
The team found that women who did not smoke in pregnancy went on to have babies that were more than half-a-pound heavier at full term than those who continued to smoke.
Even women who quit smoking during their pregnancy were shown to have heavier babies than those mothers who smoked throughout pregnancy.
BabyClear© research was carried out by researchers at Newcastle University and Teesside University collaborating through Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health.