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Future of Healthcare Q1 2022

An academic health science system to revolutionise health in the Mid-West

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Nadezhda Ivanova

Paul Burke

Chief Academic Officer, UL Hospitals Group and Vice Dean (Health Sciences), University of Limerick

Rose Galvin

Associate Professor in Physiotherapy, University of Limerick

A coordinated partnership between academics and health and social care practitioners aims to create the evidence base for more ambitious and cost-effective healthcare in Ireland’s Mid-West.

An ambitious programme is underway in Ireland’s Mid-West region to transform the area into a “living lab” of research-based clinical practice.

A coordinated partnership with the local health system (UL Hospitals Group and Mid West Community Healthcare), the University of Limerick are supporting the development of a local Academic Health Science System (AHSS). This is an initiative – supported nationally by the Chief Academic Officer Group – to help deliver the aims of the 2018 Sláintecare vision of one universal health service for all. .

Improving standards and investment

Like their counterparts in the UK and wider afield, the AHSS will play a key role in improving standards of healthcare delivery and a return on investment in clinical care.

Research, innovation and the sharing of best practice, education and training across a region are considered the foundations of developing new evidence-based models of care that deliver more cost-effective services as close to people’s homes as possible. It is also an environment designed to stem the ongoing and costly emigration of health professions talent from Ireland by providing home-grown talent with a more professionally satisfying career path.

Flexibility in clinical research

The University of Limerick sees itself as an ideal stakeholder in this initiative due to its recent heritage in medical research and training, as well as its location in the Mid-West. Paul Burke, Chief Academic Officer and Vice Dean (Health Sciences), says the university’s relative ‘youth’ in health sciences education is a positive advantage, in terms of its flexibility to advance frontiers in clinical research.

The Mid-West’s established coordinated approach between its hospital and community services provide an advantageous backdrop in which to break new research ground.

Increased academic research profile

For the university, the incentive of improving the local healthcare economy is boosted by the prospect of an increased profile in academic research nationally and internationally.

For Rose Galvin, Associate Professor in Physiotherapy at the University of Limerick, AHSS participation is already bearing fruit. A recent research initiative into redesigning health and socialcare for older people to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions has already transformed service delivery across the region and it is fast becoming standard practice for GP referrals.

Professor Galvin explains: “We are focused on building a body of empirical evidence that is rigorous and that can help build capacity among clinicians and explains to government the financial benefits of change. For us, that’s what we mean by applying science on a day-to-day basis.”

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