A lack of investment in vital research and innovation in northern England is stifling economic growth and helping to widen the North-South health divide, senior university and NHS leaders warn the Prime Minister today. Rob Parsons reports.

A LETTER to Boris Johnson signed by 22 of the region’s hospital chief executives and university medical school heads says just £21 is spent per person on health innovation and research in the North compared to a £62 average in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of London, Oxford and Cambridge.

In a challenge to the PM’s levelling-up agenda, they argue that this lack of investment helps drive health inequalities which are holding back the northern economy and cost the UK billions of pounds each year in lost productivity.

The letter, seen by The Bolton News, says the North has more universities in the world top 250 than Italy, Spain and France combined as well as “exceptional hospitals and proven strengths in health innovation”.

And it adds: “There is huge potential to support economic growth through working with innovators to address the needs of patients, support the creation of jobs and drive inward investment.

“Our organisations are the anchor institutions in our cities and regional economise and, with health innovation investment, we can help in levelling up the North.”

It comes in a week that a landmark report by Professor Sir Michael Marmot warned that health inequalities were widening between the most and least deprived parts of the country, while a rise in life expectancy had “slowed dramatically” since 2010.

Poor health accounts for one third of the productivity gap between the North and the rest of the UK, at a cost of £13.2bn a year, according to the Northern Health Science Alliance which brings together research intensive universities and NHS teaching trusts.

Funding more cutting-edge research in the North would benefit the region by bringing the latest health technology so it could benefit local patients first. And creating new jobs on the back of research work would boost the northern economy, ultimately leading to a healthier population.

In Bolton, the university’s health and social care courses are tailored to the needs of the health service.

They are a direct response to the requirements of the NHS Knowledge and Skills Framework, which means students learn everything they need to know in their chosen career.

The courses are designed for those who are aiming to begin a career in the healthcare sector as well as those already working in the sector.

Career development and employability skills are core elements to the University of Bolton’s programmes.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We want to level up people’s opportunity to have a long and healthy life, whoever they are, wherever they live and whatever their background or social circumstances. That’s why our NHS Long Term Plan, backed by an extra £33.9 billion puts tackling inequalities at its heart.

“Our approach means integrating good health into housing, transport, education, welfare and the economy because we all know preventing ill health – mental and physical – is about more than just healthcare.”

Patients in the North are already benefiting from efforts to market the region’s world-class expertise to major health firms around the globe.

The Northern Health Science Alliance, which represents research intensive universities, NHS teaching trusts and northern Academic Health Science Networks, acts as the bridge between the North and global firms.

Dr Ben Martyn, the NHSA’s Cluster Development Manager, says London’s status as a internationally renowned capital city means much of the world needs to be told about the benefits of working with the North instead.

He said: “It’s us going out there and telling the world about the expertise that exists within the North of England, and outside of that one area that they might know of, and trying to help identify opportunities where the North of England has expertise that doesn’t exist in the rest of the UK.

“We do have areas that are world leading and don’t exist in Oxford, Cambridge and London. If we don’t project this out into the world, we miss out on opportunities that are good for the whole of the UK.”

The North’s expertise in clinical trials quickly and accurately, as well as having a number of areas of high health need, makes it attractive for global firms and benefits patients who get access to cutting-edge