End research funds gap to level up UK, northern health chiefs urge Boris Johnson

A lack of investment in vital research and innovation in northern England is stifling economic growth and helping to widen the North-South health divide, senior university and NHS leaders warn the Prime Minister today.

A letter to Boris Johnson signed by 22 of the region's hospital chief executives and university medical school heads says just £21 is spent per person on health innovation and research in the North compared to a £62 average in the so-called 'golden triangle' of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

In a challenge to the PM's levelling-up agenda, they argue that this lack of investment helps drive health inequalities which are holding back the northern economy and cost the UK billions of pounds each year in lost productivity.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets staff and nurses during a visit to King's Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield, while on the General Election campaign trail around the country. PA Photo

The letter, seen by The Yorkshire Post, says the North has more universities in the world top 250 than Italy, Spain and France combined as well as "exceptional hospitals and proven strengths in health innovation".

And it adds: "There is huge potential to support economic growth through working with innovators to address the needs of patients, support the creation of jobs and drive inward investment.

"Our organisations are the anchor institutions in our cities and regional economise and, with health innovation investment, we can help in levelling up the North."

It comes in a week that a landmark report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot warned that health inequalities were widening between the most and least deprived parts of the country, while a rise in life expectancy had "slowed dramatically" since 2010.

Professor Paul Stewart, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Leeds. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

Poor health accounts for one third of the productivity gap between the North and the rest of the UK, at a cost of £13.2bn a year, according to the Northern Health Science Alliance which brings together research intensive universities and NHS teaching trusts.

Funding more cutting-edge research in the North would benefit the region by bringing the latest health technology so it could benefit local patients first. And creating new jobs on the back of research work would boost the northern economy, ultimately leading to a healthier population.

Professor Paul Stewart, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds, said experts in the city were already at the forefront of efforts to develop new health technology to benefit patients.

But he said: "What saddens me even in Leeds is that I can go from watching a Test Match in Headingley two miles north of this university to Hunslet two miles south and there's a 10-year difference in life expectancy.

"So as we start to unpick those, my view is that we're probably going to need innovative technologies in order to try and overcome this."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We want to level up people’s opportunity to have a long and healthy life, whoever they are, wherever they live and whatever their background or social circumstances. That’s why our NHS Long Term Plan, backed by an extra £33.9 billion puts tackling inequalities at its heart.

“Our approach means integrating good health into housing, transport, education, welfare and the economy because we all know preventing ill health – mental and physical – is about more than just healthcare.”

Northern leaders' letter to the PM in full

Dear Prime Minister,

We call upon you to invest properly in health research in the North of England.

Just £21 is spent per person on health innovation and research in the North compared to a £62 average in London, Oxford and Cambridge. This lack of investment helps to perpetuate health inequalities.

Poor health accounts for one third of the productivity gap between the North and the rest of the UK, at a cost of £13.2bn a year. Analysis by the Northern Health Science Alliance shows that this situation is getting worse and the gap is widening year-on-year as investment is increasingly centralised in the South East.

The North of England has more world top 250 universities than Italy, Spain and France combined, exceptional NHS hospitals and proven strengths in health innovation.

There is huge potential to support economic growth through working with innovators to address the needs of patients, support the creation of jobs and drive inward investment.

Our organisations are the anchor institutions in our cities and regional economies and, with health innovation investment, we can help in levelling up the North.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Séamus O’Neill Chief Executive Northern Health Science Alliance

Professor David Burn Chair of NHSA and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University

Dame Jackie Daniel Chief Executive Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS FT

Professor Paul Stewart, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Health and Dean of the Medical School at the University of Leeds.

Dr Liz Mear Chief Executive The Innovation Agency (AHSN for the North West Coast

Professor Graham M Lord Vice-President & Dean Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health University of Manchester and Director Manchester Academic Health Science Centre

Professor Carol Holland Deputy Dean Faculty of Health and Medicine Lancaster University

Richard Stubbs Chief Executive Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network

Karen Partington Chief Executive Lancashire Teaching Hospitals

Professor Alison Metcalfe, Pro Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching and for the College of Health, Wellbeing and Life-sciences, Sheffield Hallam University

Steve Warburton, Chief Executive Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Amanda Ellison Director Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing Durham University

Dr Nav Ahluwalia, Executive Medical Director and Director of Research Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust

Professor Louise Kenny, Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, University of Liverpool

Professor StJohn Crean Pro Vice Chancellor (Research, Innovation and Enterprise) Professor of Medicine in Dentistry, Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon University of Central Lancashire

Dr Nicola Wesley Interim Chief Executive Officer Academic Health Science Network North East North Cumbria

Dr Ben Bridgewater Chief Executive Health Innovation Manchester

Professor Karen Bloor, Professor of Health Economics and Policy, and University of York Research Champion for Health and Wellbeing.

Julian Hartley, Chief Executive, Leeds Teaching Hospitals

Sir Mike Deegan, Chief Executive, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust

Elizabeth Moody, Executive Director of Nursing and Governance & Deputy Chief Executive Tees Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Trust

Professor Chris Newman Interim Vice-President for the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, University of Sheffield.

Health research in numbers:

Totals for combined research funding 2018 in the UK

Yorkshire 4.6 per cent

Leeds 1.9 per cent

Sheffield 1.4 per cent

Manchester 3.5 per cent

Liverpool 2.6 per cent

North West 6.5 per cent

North East 2.5 per cent

Newcastle 2.2 per cent

London 31.8 per cent

Cambridge 13.3 per cent

Oxford 10.7 per cent

South East 14.9 per cent

East 14.3 per cent

Source: The 2020 UK Health Research Analysis Report