North Devon Healthcare Trust department awarded Academic status

North Devon District Hospital

North Devon District Hospital - Credit: Archant

A department at the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has become the first locally to be designated as an ‘Academic Department’.

The trust has announced jointly with the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health the designation of the Academic Department of Upper Gastrointestinal and Abdominal Wall Surgery.

This department was selected to receive academic department status as it has an outstanding record in leading research that answers key questions for patient care. It has established its excellence in many ways, including the quality and volume of its publications, the amount of research funding raised and the number of staff involved in research.

Joint work between the trust and the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health is a key for past and future work of the academic departments.

Prof Adrian Harris, Chief Medical Officer NDHT and RD&E, said: “Although there is already some outstanding research activity taking place here, we want to increase this by making research more of a core activity for our clinical teams.


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Academic departments will be able to increase their investigator-led research work with extra training, management and administrative support so that all staff across a variety of disciplines and professions can get involved.”

Dr Karen Davies, Medical Director NDHT, added: “We will be looking to designate further departments with academic status in the future, and details of how to apply to participate in this highly competitive process will be shared in due course.”

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The department of Upper GI and Abdominal Wall surgery was established in 2016 and is a core service within North Devon District Hospital providing specialist care and supporting emergency surgery. It provides an established specialist referral service for complex hernia surgery taking referrals from across the country.

To be awarded the title of academic department the team had to demonstrate excellence and leadership in research and education. High quality research is integral to the department: all consultants have research doctorates, with more than 250 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, and aim to offer all patients the chance to be involved in clinical research.

The department is also heavily involved in undergraduate and postgraduate education, and department members include the President-Elect of the British Hernia Society, board member of the European Hernia Society, and the President-Elect of the British Association of Day Surgery.

The academic department will be led by consultant surgeon John Findlay. John’s research interests aim to improve outcomes and decision-making in abdominal wall and upper gastrointestinal surgery. He was awarded his PhD for genomic and clinical informatics at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics and Department of Oncology at the University of Oxford, where he undertook his post-doctoral research as a Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Centre, and Honorary Clinical Lecturer. His research used machine learning and decision theory of large data sets to generate novel radiological, clinical and genomic metrics and models to augment clinical decision-making in Upper GI surgery.  

Mr David Sanders, Consultant Surgeon, at NDHT, said: "We are very lucky to have a highly successful unit, with substantial clinical and academic experience. Our core philosophy is one of working collaboratively, to offer our patients the highest quality care possible, tailored to their needs, and we are delighted to be the first service based in Northern Devon to receive academic department status.

"I am confident that John is the right person to lead the academic side of the department, his enthusiasm and research pedigree is exceptional.

"There is clear evidence that patients in research active hospitals and departments have even better outcomes. Research also brings in additional funding, improves our clinical services, attracts high quality staff to Northern Devon, making our services more sustainable not only in the department awarded academic status, but across many other specialties."

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