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25 May 2023

Innovative health research hub for Bedfordshire and Luton

An innovative new partnership hub for health research is to be set up in Bedfordshire and Luton to help improve patient care in primary and community healthcare services.
Members of the research partnership team.

East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) and the Department of Public Health and Primary at the University of Cambridge have forged a strategic partnership to help tackle major areas of unmet health needs in the community, the first partnership of its kind for the University.

The partnership hub will address some of the region’s most important healthcare problems, including frailty amongst older people, long-term medical conditions, narrowing health inequities, and optimising the configuration of primary and community healthcare to best address the needs of the local population. This exciting initiative will draw heavily on the multidisciplinary excellence of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, ranked as one of the two leading centres in population health sciences in the UK in the Research Excellence Framework 2021, which provides an ideal context in which to host this new hub, providing expertise in a range of quantitative and qualitative disciplines.

A key focus of this hub – which will be based in the Department’s Primary Care Unit -- will be on primary care services, as they are the first point of contact in the healthcare system, acting as the ‘front door’ of the NHS. They include general practice, pharmacy, dental and optometry services. Community health services are mainly delivered in people’s homes and provide care for people from birth to end of life, including supporting people with complex health and care needs to live independently in their own home for as long as possible. Given the complexities and opportunities of working across health and social care teams in delivering these services, there is considerable scope for conducting research into the development and evaluation of innovative ways of providing more joined-up and effective care.

The new partnership hub will carry out its research programmes working closely with healthcare staff in primary and community health and social care services in the area, and with the patients and carers of Bedfordshire and Luton. It will also help to bring new academic opportunities to GPs and community healthcare professionals in the area, offering training and support to help them get started on their research journeys.

To provide senior leadership for this hub, a senior clinical academic specialising in primary and community care (Assistant Professor of Community Care) will soon be appointed, based at the Department’s Primary Care Unit, a leading primary care research centre in the UK. 

Paul Calaminus, ELFT’s Chief Executive, is excited about the possibilities of the partnership. He said, “Working with Cambridge University, a world-renown leader in the field of research, will play an important role in improving population health in our communities. We know that service users of the Trust like being involved in research and want others to benefit from their experiences. This partnership will enable us to build more research capacity in the Trust and provide more academic opportunities for our staff.”

According to Professor John Danesh, Head of the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, “This innovative partnership with ELFT provides exciting opportunities to achieve both major new scientific insight and far-reaching societal impact to enhance the health of populations in Bedfordshire, Luton and beyond: both goals are central to our institution’s mission.”

Professor Stephen Morris, RAND Professor of Health Services Research and Head of the Primary Care Unit, said: “We hope that this new partnership between ELFT and the University will pave the way for large-scale research studies in Bedfordshire and Luton over the coming years. We are looking forward to working closely with ELFT and with healthcare professionals in the area and encouraging them to become even more research-active. We know that research-active organisations deliver better patient care: ultimately the goal is to help to improve the health of the people of Bedfordshire and Luton, and enable the lessons we learn to be applied across the UK.”

Professor Frank Röhricht, ELFTs Medical Director of Research & Innovation, said: “ELFT has a significant track record as a provider organisation to facilitate applied research in mental health care. Establishing a centre of academic excellence for primary and community health care will enable us to pursue and strengthen our integrated care perspective. The research agenda will be driven by the clinical needs of the local population, and this has proven to be a very effective way of improving the quality of care in the past. Our partnership will be a focal point for recruitment and retention efforts at ELFT and add significant value to our innovations portfolio.” 

Dr Rima Makarem, Chair of Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board, said: “This ground-breaking partnership between The University of Cambridge and East London NHS Foundation Trust will combine expertise to tackle some of the most pressing healthcare issues facing our local communities. This important research will help to improve patient care in primary and community healthcare services, making a real difference to people’s lives.”