Spotlight on Bristol in national healthy cities report by University Alliance

Issue date: 25 February 2016

Healthy cities report cover

A report by the University Alliance (UA) published today, Thursday 25 February, includes a range of projects happening at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) that are making a positive contribution to ensure that our cities are healthier placers to live.

The report is the first in a Regional Leadership Project series, entitled, 'Building healthy cities: the role of universities in the health ecosystem' and it highlights the way that UA partners are contributing towards helping to build healthy cities.

A key focus in the report is a spotlight on projects happening in the Bristol region and includes the work of the Bristol Health Partnership; the West of England Academic Health Science Network; the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and University Enterprise Zone; WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments; West of England Genomic Medicine Centre as well as a range of examples of impactful research from both local universities.

The study examines this in the context of financial pressures facing the NHS and the government's agenda of devolving more powers and budgets to city regions and focuses on the contribution that Universities are making via research-informed policy and practice in areas such as built environment, planning and community health.

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England and Chair of the UA, has written a blog that highlights the report and the role universities play as a crucial lynchpin in the health ecosystem. He warns of the 'perfect storm' that is heading our way unless we can find innovative ways of improving the health of our nation quickly, reducing the demand on our already stretched services.

Here is an extract from the blog post: Professor West said, “We play many important parts in this ecosystem as suppliers of doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, health scientists and social workers. We also play an important role in driving and informing health and social care policy and we turn out a vast volume of health relevant research and innovation and are responsible for many of the lifesaving technologies used in clinical settings.

“But less acknowledged, perhaps, is the contribution universities make as anchor institutions within local health economies. Working with others is the only way to achieve impact on the scale required.

“Universities are able to unite the complex array of organisations that make up the 'health ecosystem' within a city or city region. They can then help to make health and wellbeing provision more efficient and more responsive to the needs of the surrounding population.

“In Bristol, where my institution UWE is situated, there are positive signs of this happening. Through Bristol Health Partners, for example, the city's universities have joined forces with providers and commissioners as well as Bristol City Council to integrate provision and improve health and wellbeing through innovation, research, adoption and spread.

“Our report also identifies how the research capacity of universities is being harnessed to produce healthier communities. The scope of this activity is exceptionally broad, covering everything from applied clinical medicine, to studies on improving the urban environment through effective planning, to the development of robots that enhance patient care or assist those with permanent health conditions.”

“The cross-cutting nature of health and wellbeing challenges has led to growing volume of interdisciplinary research at UK universities where institutions also work with non-academic partners including businesses, charities and social enterprises. Incubation spaces on campus enable entrepreneurs to design products and innovate with the support of specialists at the university. This type of engagement will be further enhanced by the soon-to-be-opened University Enterprise Zones like the one at UWE which will focus around MedTech, Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

“Finally, university research and innovation and the funding that enables it has the added benefit of supporting local services. Clinical research, for example, will often involve observing and trialling treatments with patients in a local hospital. From the perspective of providers and commissioners, this represents an investment additional to that coming directly from government. Similarly, university-based health academics are often specialists within a particular field of medicine, surgery or other health-related discipline. Through what is effectively a joint appointment with the NHS, their contribution is essential for maintaining the quality of clinical services in the region.

“The health challenges Britain faces are multifarious, and it be would be disingenuous to suggest that universities hold all the answers. However, as this exercise proves, universities can and do make significant contributions to the wellbeing of surrounding populations.”

Link to report here

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