HEALTH bodies across the South West have joined forces to help transform patient care and public health. Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust is among the 18 core member organisations at the heart of the South West Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). Chief executive Jac Kelly said the new network would be to help identify and spread the very best in clinical practice and innovative health and social care. Significant changes will need to be made in response to the pressures on the health system in terms of an ageing population with complex needs and financial pressures on the public sector, she said. Active involvement in the AHSN will place our Trust at the heart of a network which brings together the very best in clinical and managerial expertise across academia, research, education and training. A new and important aspect will be working more closely with the healthcare sciences industry so that together we can improve patient care and the health of the wider local population in North and East Devon. More than 100 leading health figures attended the official launch of the new network on Wednesday. As one of 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) designated across England, South West Health Innovation has the task of bringing together the wealth of experience, knowledge and skills to improve the health and wellbeing of 2.2 million people living in Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Other member organisations include Northern Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group; Devon Partnership NHS Trust; South Western Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust; and University of Exeter. Dr Tim Burke, chairman of Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, said: We are pleased to be a partner of the Academic Health Science Network and look forward to working closely with the network on innovative research projects that will lead to better health outcomes for our patients. As a clinical commissioning group we always want to identify best practice and innovative ideas to benefit our patients and we are confident that our partnership with the AHSN will help to achieve this. Chief executive of Devon Partnership NHS Trust Peter Cubbon said: The links between our organisations will be strengthened by having a joined-up approach to research and we are delighted that mental health has been identified as one of the Networks key priorities. We are confident that our involvement in this project will help us to accelerate the adoption of new science and best practice helping us to improve the support we can provide for people with a range of mental health needs. Ken Wenman, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: Outcomes for patients suffering serious or life-threatening emergencies have improved significantly in recent years thanks to developments in technology, alongside a far greater range of clinical skills of our frontline staff. Being part of this Academic Health Science Network allows us as an ambulance service to access and influence the latest research and innovation in areas such as pre-hospital care benefitting our staff providing that care and, most importantly, the thousands of patients we see every day. South West Health Innovation chairman Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen said: This will be a dynamic collaboration. It will encourage involvement in medical research and drive innovation in healthcare, with the aim of making the South West a leader in delivering consistent best practice and clinical outcomes which both improve the health of our population and the productivity of our workforce. Enabling the development of ideas that improve services and clinical outcomes will motivate creative thinkers and will be exciting for all those involved, bringing benefit to patients and enabling wealth creation, particularly when we export our innovations outside the region. This region has an older population than many other parts of the country and a greater prevalence of chronic disease. In some ways this is a challenge for healthcare but it is also an opportunity for our Network. If we can encourage people to become involved in research and pilot programmes across the region, and we can convert our learning from research into positive action more quickly than others, then we can build on our already excellent cancer network to also become a pathfinder region for improving care of the elderly and those with chronic conditions like dementia and diabetes. We are working together to innovate, to improve and to maintain a positive health profile with and for the people of the South West.