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Facing the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic provides opportunities to embed sustainable, positive change to our healthcare system. The pandemic has required the system to deliver healthcare in different ways, and has shown how the NHS, the academic community, third sector and industry can be mobilised at speed to support discovery, evaluation and new clinical practice.

Since the start of the pandemic in England, we have worked across our designations to listen to our partners’ needs and support them to adapt to new challenges and learn quickly, so they can deliver the best care to our population. As we move forward, we will continue to work closely with our partners and commissioners, restarting paused programmes of work where appropriate and flexing others to fit the needs of the healthcare system’s new normal.

Our two strategic areas of focus will be:

Mental health and behaviour change: Evidence from current and past crises suggests a powerful impact of the pandemic on mental health outcomes. In response, we will continue to draw on our strong academic connections and our networks across primary, community and acute care to support mental health services to innovate and develop to better meet population need.

Cardiovascular disease and other long-term conditions: COVID-19 has placed unprecedented pressure on our health system. Immediate focus has understandably been on supporting patients with or at risk of the virus. However, there is a large cohort of people living with long-term conditions that need ongoing, proactive management to prevent a wave of exacerbations increasing health care demand in the months ahead. A key focus of our work in the coming year will be to support innovation at scale to optimise management and self-management of long-term conditions as the NHS resets post-COVID.

Digital, data and innovation are themes that underpin all of our work, and we will continue to support innovators and businesses with products and technologies that can enhance patient care and experience, and to work with our clinical, academic and industry partners to harness data for better patient outcomes.

We believe that patients should be involved and engaged in every aspect of healthcare – it is one of our core values. We are committed in 2020/21 to building on the diverse and widespread patient and public engagement activities across our partnership and supporting our partners to work together with the community and patients to transform research and ideas into sustainable improvements in health. We will also ensure that we seek input from people with a diverse range of experience and backgrounds, as well as undertaking positive action to ensure our workforce and programmes reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.

Our unique position as an academic health science partnership has enabled us to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, drawing on the expertise of clinicians and academics across the world to provide targeted practical support, share learning rapidly, and plan for the longer term. We continue to work with the NHS England and Improvement London and our Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to align the challenges facing the NHS with the research undertaken by our ARC and AHSC. Developing a closer alliance between the health and care system and research resources provides an opportunity for informed decision making to be better integrated at a regional level, paving the way for an ICS level Learning Health System that can use data and research evidence to inform policy and clinical practice, for the benefit of patients and the population.

As we enter recovery from the immediate COVID-19 crisis, we have an important role in acting as an independent catalyst for long-term, sustainable change. We are excited about the opportunities ahead, and look forward to working with you to ensure improved health and better care for our population.