The alliance was formed in 2011 and lead by a gentleman called Professor Ian Jacobs who, at the time, was dean of medicine at Manchester University. He had spent his career in London and was very much part of what is called the ‘golden triangle’ of Oxford, Cambridge and London in the UK’s health and life sciences ecosystem. He realised that the North would be a much more powerful force in health sciences if its cities united. He brought together the deans of the medical schools and the chief executives of the associated NHS teaching trusts from Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, York, Durham and Newcastle, with the aim of using their collective research power, patient population and medical research infrastructure to counteract the ‘golden triangle’s’ dominance.
The alliance has a number of functions: to create a brand around health and research in the North of England, to assist the cities of the North to work together and apply for more collaborative and impactful bids for public sector funding, and to draw in more private sector investment. This private sector investment is predominantly from sources outside of the North; from companies on the west coast of America or in Japan. We need to encourage these companies to come to the North and show them the collective power of all of the great Northern cities.
The NHSA members were doing the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ before it was cool; before anyone put a label to it. But I believe the alliance’s activity in the promotion of health and research is an essential component of the Northern Powerhouse strategy.
It’s important to say that universities and hospitals are not incentivised by the Government in any real way to collaborate between cities. The NHSA was created by the pioneering vision of inspirational leadership from within the Northern universities and hospitals who recognised that working collectively is more powerful. The alliance runs events and has a newsletter to encourage collaborative working. We also have projects involving people from different areas of the North and the concept of working together is now taking hold across the North.
The North East has been incredibly clever in the way it has branded its health research – putting a real focus on ageing. As a consequence, the NHSA has been able to channel companies and investments into the North-East region, based on that expertise. Because of that clear focus on its competencies, it’s making a real difference in our ability to distinguish what Newcastle and the surrounding area has to offer in the Northern Powerhouse. A key part for us is being able to articulate what is different between the Northern cites. We can say to potential investors that in ageing-related research, there’s a North East powerhouse; in cancer-related research , the powerhouses are Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle; in health economics, the powerhouses are York and Sheffield and in medical technologies, the powerhouse is Leeds.
We ran an interesting debate at the Tory Party Conference back in September 2015, where we had Tech North and Transport for the North on a panel discussing what fuelled the Northern Powerhouse. We were arguing that actually, you need three things to have a powerhouse: people and their skills, transport so that you can get those people to where they need to be, and the industrial bases for them to perform their role. For the NHSA, health sciences is an important component of the Northern Powerhouse, but it’s not the only component. Individually we can’t deliver a Northern Powerhouse, but collectively, we can.
In November 2014, the UK Government announced a £20-million investment in Newcastle University, to part-fund the establishment of a £40-million National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation (NASI), enabling Newcastle researchers to take a global approach to the multi-faceted issue of an ageing population. The centre is set to be operational this year.