People living with complex, long-term ill health will benefit from pioneering new approaches in healthcare, thanks to a development grant awarded to partners in Leeds by The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and the UK Research and Innovation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The £200,000 grant is one of only nine in the country, and funds a new collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and the Leeds Health and Care Partnership to explore how best to support people living in Leeds with multiple long-term health conditions.
Researchers will combine systems design and engineering approaches with data science methods to understand the problems that people living with multiple long-term conditions experience – and how to improve health and care services for them.
More than a quarter of people in the UK live with multiple long-term conditions (MLTCs), a term used to describe the co-existence of two or more chronic health conditions (physical or mental) in a person.
This is becoming the norm for older people and those from disadvantaged communities, with multiple long-term conditions appearing 10-15 years earlier in people living in the most deprived areas compared with the most affluent areas. Having multiple long-term conditions affects quality of life and leads to poorer health outcomes and care experiences, creating significant health inequalities among those affected.
Caring for people with multiple conditions can be challenging due to interactions between different conditions. Care can be fragmented because many services in the NHS have been built around single conditions, doctors train in specialties and research tends to take place on one disease at a time.
People with multiple conditions want joined up, efficient and easy to navigate care, as well as better support for mental wellbeing.
This new approach, co-led by Professor Philip Conaghan from the School of Medicine and Professor Alison McKay from the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Leeds, will build on the huge groundwork already laid in Leeds through the Leeds Health and Care Partnership’s work. Here, diverse teams have come together to better understand how to support population health, investing in data analysis capability to drive new insight into how best to design health and care services.
Addressing inequity in access to care
Partners will form a bespoke innovation hub to develop a proposal for a full-scale programme of research using systems design and engineering approaches to consider all aspects of the complex health and care system within Leeds.
The hub will place the voice and needs of patients, carers and healthcare professionals at the heart of its design, focusing on addressing inequity in access to care for those living in the most deprived areas of the region, who have the poorest health outcomes.
Working in collaboration
Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Leeds, said: “This development grant affords a unique opportunity to bring together the academic community with the health and care providers across the region, as a testbed for working in collaboration, promoting knowledge exchange and utilising robust evidence to inform health and care service delivery.”
Tim Ryley, West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board (ICB) Accountable Officer(Leeds), added: “We are very excited to be a partner alongside the University of Leeds in this programme of research. We see this programme as a great opportunity to further enhance our systems-based approach to population health management of long-term conditions and to become an international leader for innovation and transformation in managing multimorbidity in Leeds.”
Leeds is renowned for its strengths in partnership working, supported via Leeds Academic Health Partnership (LAHP), which enables collaborations to help solve the city’s hardest health challenges. In this case, the LAHP helped partners quickly build a broad-ranging leadership team to develop a successful funding application, rooted in what local communities need and combined with the potential for game-changing, cutting edge-science.
Kate Lodge, LAHP Partnership Director, said: “We are delighted to have helped partners reach this exciting stage and we will continue to facilitate collaborations to support the new hub. This funding will help us to unlock the transformative potential of truly integrated care designed around the needs of local people, especially those who experience the greatest inequalities.”
From 2025, the five hubs which NIHR and EPSRC deem most successful will receive further funding totalling between £3 million and £6 million for a period of up to 55 months. These Innovation Hubs are expected to move from an ‘understanding’ phase to a design and delivery phase through an iterative process, which seeks to test solutions until they result in improvements for people with MLTC and their carers.