Thinking back and looking forward – reflections on the end of 2021 and ahead to 2022

It is the time of year to reflect on the previous 12 months; from what went well, what was a disaster, and everything in between. My chance to think about what we learn from the last year and what the coming year could bring. This is especially important in what has been a difficult and uncertain year, with another difficult year ahead. 

What has become clearer is the importance of research and innovation to the health and social care system.

COVID has taught us that we can develop, fund, and deliver first class science quickly and effectively to deliver evidence-based care that improves outcomes and experience for patients.

The pandemic has also proved the case for linking disparate data sets to deliver near real time data that not only informs decision making, but also service provision. This is learning that we must build on as we eventually get to ‘business as usual’.   

Thinking about what our partnership of NHS trusts and universities achieved in 2021 fills me with immense pride.

We launched our new Living Well Programme led by Programme Director Prof Matt Ashton, Director of Public Health for Liverpool, and Programme Manager Elizabeth Collins. This system-wide programme is working to drive improvements in the outcomes for people of working age in Cheshire and Merseyside. 

The last 12 months saw the development of the Neuroscience and Mental Health programme which launched in 2020. It is led by Programme Director Prof Conor Mallucci, Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon at Alder Hey, with new Programme Manager Dr Jade Thai appointed at the start of 2021. Work has started on expanding our capabilities, capacity, and output of mental health research in the region. 

We made our planned investment in Innovation with the appointment of Haku Bhatt. We are delighted that Haku’s role is our first joint appointment with the Innovation Agency. It is important for us to harness the expertise of our regional colleagues and draw upon each other’s strengths – this is an example of great partnership working. 

We know we need to invest more as a system in research capacity and capability, so the appointment of Prof Gillian Hutcheon as Head of Education and Research Capacity Building is an important step forward. Gillian is exploring the evidence base on how best to create sustainable research capability. Our partners are all keen to build their capacity and capability for research and Gillian is engaging with them to explore how they think LHP should help.  

Our New Chair Prof Eliot Forster joined LHP in April, bringing a wealth of national, international, and industry experience, helping to drive forward our strategy refresh for the future. 

Our partners wanted us to be bold in how we brand and describe ourselves and our new branding and website is certainly bold! Our Communications Manager, Melanie Harvey, is doing a great job in building our social media presence and of course our website, which is an integral tool as we move forward into 2022. 

We held three Grand Round webinars in 2021, helping to introduce colleagues from the system and beyond to the work taking place across Liverpool, with a focus on Innovation, Living Well, and Neuroscience and Mental Health. Look out for more webinars coming up in 2022. 

Our Starting Well programme continues to thrive, achieving more than £10m in grant submissions, supporting the delivery of research projects, and establishing connections across the partnership. There is now a regular bulletin to keep colleagues up to date with news, funding opportunities, and important developments. Starting Well was involved in the relaunch of the Liverpool Obesity Research Network and has helped a group of academics from the region research the effect of COVID-19 and lockdown on children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, with this important report launched this month.

In 2021 The Liverpool Centre of Cardiovascular Science (LCCS) marked World Heart Day by publicising in local media important messages for the public regarding their heart health and vital life-saving skills. The LCCS has attracted more than £25m in grant income and more than 400 high impact journal publications. This is a remarkable achievement.  

In our Cancer programme we have continued to work with colleagues from the Liverpool Cancer Research Institute, Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, and the University of Liverpool to build a collaborative cancer research community, working to attract investment, high calibre researchers, and build a sustainable research capacity. The appointment of Michael Noorzadeh as Cancer Programme Support Manager will help us build the cancer programme to compliment current expertise across Liverpool. 

So much has been achieved by LHP SPARK and our 12 partners working together, particularly in the light of the tremendous challenges posed by COVID-19. The ongoing aims of SPARK are to provide efficient, streamlined, research services for NHS and HEI colleagues to reduce duplication in processes and enhance the support provided across Cheshire and Merseyside for researchers across the City.

In 2021, we processed research studies in nine days, which is an improvement of seven days from 2020 – this is a remarkable achievement.

Additionally, 115 grant applications were facilitated and supported by the SPARK grants team, from the ones which have been assessed 31.25% (10/32) were successfully awarded by the end of the year. SPARK are currently awaiting the outcome of 77 grants, with a total value of £41.35M.

LHP members have also been successful in securing large consortium bids including the IID3 study (Newcastle University), STIMULATE-ICP (University College London) and the Liverpool Centre for Cardiovascular Science has been awarded an EU 2020 Horizon grant for AFFIRMO (Atrial Fibrillation Integrated Approach In Frail, Multimorbid, And Polymedicated Older People), worth €6m.

We’re also delighted that LHP SPARK and members have been shortlisted for an HSJ Partnership Award within the category Best Healthcare Provider Partnership with the NHS for its response to COVID.

To start 2022, we welcome Prof Nicola Wilson as Chief Operating Officer (Deputy Chief Executive). Nicola has a wealth of experience in the health and life science sector and a strong background of collaborative working which is crucial to the successful working of our organisation and the local system. Nicola was born and raised in Liverpool, and everyone at LHP is looking forward to working with her as we move into the next stage of our development.

Nicola joins us as we bid farewell to Dr Mark Jackson, who after three years is stepping down as Director of Delivery and Performance and Deputy Chief Executive, as part of his move into retirement. Mark has led the development of the organisation and we are now a well governed, resilient organisation, and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Mark.

When I think back to when I started in my role at LHP in 2019, it is an understatement to say that the world is a very different place now!

I think back to the development of the 2019-2021 LHP strategy, where we were then and what we have achieved – I am proud that we have been able to build a robust and resilient organisation that supported our NHS and universities colleagues during the pandemic.

Looking forward, as the 2019 strategy draws to an end, we are currently considering our collective ambition for the coming three years. The fundamental question to answer is: “How do we mobilise the collective research and innovation strengths of our academic, and health and care partners to deliver real-world benefits for the people we serve?”

The fundamental driver for us is to make a difference to the people of Liverpool. The pandemic has taught us that we must never lose sight of this, and that collaboration is the only way to do this.

“When you integrate & coordinate is when the magic of real change happens.” Obama, 2016 

We will unveil our new strategy in April – watch this space…