Health researchers, medics and patients across the region have been awarded £9m to help find solutions to common health problems.

The University of Portsmouth is among the 15 institutions tasked by the National Institute for Health Research with researching real-world health problems, including ageing and dementia.

Researchers in four universities (Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester and Bournemouth), 11 NHS Trusts and local authorities, will work with doctors, nurses, health professionals, care staff and patients to find practical solutions in the region’s health and care systems.

The funding lasts for five years and begins this October.

Professor Sherria Hoskins, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Portsmouth, said: “This is substantial funding that represents our growing strength in health research and has been secured as part of a team effort both from within the University of Portsmouth and across the region.

“We are extremely excited at the prospect of working with excellent teams from the Universities of Bournemouth, Winchester and Southampton and colleagues at the National Institute for Health Research as part of this Wessex Research Collaboration.

“It is particularly exciting because the focus is on applied research in some key areas of challenge in health for our nation, for example dementia and diabetes. With £9 million to contribute to research over the next five years we believe that we can have a significant real-world impact.”

The research team will be led by cancer and end of life care specialist Professor Alison Richardson, Director of Applied Research Collaboration Wessex at University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and University of Southampton.

She said: “We are enormously pleased to have been awarded this funding from the National Institute for Health Research. Our collaboration is focussed on some of the biggest health challenges facing communities across Wessex. Our research will bring together patients and the public, local health and care providers and universities to work together to produce and implement research to enable prevention of ill health, more effective treatment and care and better outcomes. It’s a very exciting time and we look forward to starting our programme of work in earnest in the autumn.”

The researchers will be working across four areas:

  1. Ageing and dementia, including how best to extend support for people with frailty after they leave hospital; how we can improve the diagnosis and care for people with dementia.
  2. Long term conditions, including looking at ways to reduce the burden of treatment on people with a long term illness, and trying out online support for patients to stay well in the community and reduce emergency hospital admissions.
  3. Healthy communities, including using interactive teaching in primary schools to help improve diet and combat obesity, and in a separate project, working with couples to help them overcome alcohol misuse.
  4. Health systems and workforce, looking at how we can support emergency departments to manage and predict high demand using modelling, and also devise and test new ways to coordinate multiple appointments for patients to reduce the burden on them.

The research has been designed alongside the priorities for the NHS in the Wessex region and to compliment research carried out in other local research organisations.

The region’s ageing population faces a number of health challenges from frailty to neurodegenerative conditions like dementia. Wessex has a higher than average number of people over 65 (23%, compared to the England average of 17 per cent), with the Isle of Wight (30 per cent) and Dorset (28 per cent) having the highest numbers. In addition to that there are many people living longer with long-term health conditions such as arthritis, lung conditions (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and type-2 diabetes.

In addition to putting health research to a practical use, the funding will help support a number of NHS, social care staff and academics to study and improve their skills by conducting research.

Central to each research team will be two lead public/patient members who will help develop research projects and advise on how to explain the work without using jargon. These eight public/patient team members will also join a host of supporters and advisors who will review and scrutinise the development and progress of health research projects.

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