‘Beyond Eds and Meds’: Realising the value of place-based university-health partnerships | Dr Peter O’Brien

Dr Peter O’Brien

The advent of the local industrial strategy is placing a renewed focus on ‘place’, encouraging universities and the NHS to work collaboratively to help stimulate sustainable forms of growth and public service transformation. Dr Peter O’Brien, executive director of Yorkshire Universities, explains why this partnership presents a golden opportunity.

There is growing interest in the concept of ‘anchor institutions’ and the role such actors play within local economies and communities – especially in places managing the implications of industrial and technological change, inadequate housing, poor health and rising inequalities between different social groups.

It is worth reflecting on what we mean by ‘anchor’. The word indicates reliability and strength; also permanence (anchors need to hold things in place over time). Anchors have a clear and visible purpose – they help by holding together components of the environment.

What kinds of anchor institutions exist within particular communities? Most people would probably list ‘service providers’ that have a physical presence and a clear connection to a local population (i.e. councils, schools and nurseries, libraries, GP surgeries, further education colleges, leisure centres, hospitals, universities, etc). Some institutions are also more obviously ‘local’ than others.

Two that are of particular importance to Yorkshire Universities (YU) and the NHS Confederation – universities and hospitals – are similar in size and scale, but they may also be remote, either in a physical sense in that not every town has a hospital or a university, or in the nature of what they offer or how they relate to local communities. For example, some local people will not be aware of what a university contributes to its immediate and extended communities.

Anchor institutions are arguably more important when located in the places that are confronting major socio-economic challenges. This suggests that their influence and impact is more likely to be evident in regions such as Yorkshire. In a period of economic uncertainty and change, and with the UK seeking answers to how best to tackle low levels of productivity and widening spatial imbalances, educational and health ‘anchors’ need to remain strong and adopt a broader purpose that goes beyond ‘core business’.

Fortunately, there is a new tool that enables us to underpin this approach – the local industrial strategy. With a renewed focus on the importance of place, universities and the NHS are being encouraged to work collaboratively within and across regions and localities to help stimulate and support sustainable and inclusive forms of growth and public service transformation.

Universities have long worked closely with the health service in a number of direct ways. This includes collaborating on ‘blue skies’ science (some of which leads to direct practical applications); innovative systems; and supporting specialist training and development (doctors, midwives, nurses and many other professions).

Tangible outputs include producing skilled people and identifying new methods of practising health. These interventions help with the recruitment and retention of staff and the sustainable delivery of public health objectives.

To help universities in Yorkshire widen and deepen their contributions to building more resilient places, YU has established a new Industrial Strategy Group. Universities of all types have a major role to play in working with each other, and with other partners, including the health sector, that have parallel missions to higher education. YU has also joined the Strategic Advisory Board of the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network, helping to cement the strategic relationship between university research and health sector innovation.

It is only by working together in partnership, drawing individually and collectively upon their unique assets as anchor institutions, that universities and NHS bodies can, through place-based local industrial strategies, respond positively to the wider opportunities and challenges of realising more sustainable growth and development in Yorkshire.

Dr Peter O’Brien is executive director at Yorkshire Universities. Follow him and the organisation on Twitter @obrienpeter72 @YorkshireUnis

To find out more about the industrial strategy and the opportunities it presents the NHS, download Building a Britain for the future: Understanding the Industrial Strategy white paper.

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