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Department's Centre for Research Equity partners with Northern Ireland to advance health equity. This groundbreaking collaboration aims to improve health outcomes, reduce disparities, and ensure research benefits all communities through inclusive, community-driven approaches.

The University of Oxford's Centre for Research Equity (CfRE) has today launched a historic partnership to advance health equity in Northern Ireland and ensure everyone benefits from healthcare advancements.

This first-of-its-kind collaboration aims to improve health outcomes, reduce disparities, and ensure that the benefits of research reflect the needs and experiences of all communities and peoples in Northern Ireland and beyond.

The partnership with Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D) Division in Northern Ireland, supported by the Department of Health Northern Ireland alongside key health and social care agencies sees Northern Ireland become the first UK region to partner with the CfRE, bringing together patient and public advocates, healthcare professionals and academics.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Mike Nesbitt, speaking at the launch event at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate, emphasised the importance of this initiative: "This new partnership between our Health and Social Care Research and Development Division and Oxford University represents a significant step forward in efforts to address health inequalities in Northern Ireland. By bringing together leading experts and resources from across sectors, we can work towards conducting research that truly benefits all of our communities."

Laura Collins, Lived Experience Expert (Family Carer), and Public Involvement Enhancing Research (PIER) group member, HSC Research & Development Division, Public Health Agency, and a full-time family carer for the past 43 years, underscored the significance of research equity for patients and carers: "As someone who has spent decades advocating for family carers and individuals with disabilities, I know firsthand how crucial it is for research to reflect the needs and experiences of all communities. The partnership's commitment to involving all in research is a vital step towards ensuring that everyone can benefit from advances in healthcare."

Professor Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer in Northern Ireland, highlighted the collaborative nature of the partnership: “This initiative builds on the learning and relationships forged during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to developing new collaborative approaches that will ensure that research reaches and includes diverse populations, including those who have been historically underrepresented or faced barriers to accessing research opportunities.”

Professor Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Northern Ireland Department of Health, emphasised the unified effort: "This historic partnership unites various sectors in Northern Ireland – from health and social care, academia, industry, and the voluntary sector – to leverage our collective strengths. By working together, we aim to advance research equity and address health disparities highlighted by recent challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic."

Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director, HSC Research & Development Division, Public Health Agency, stated: "The partnership represents our dedicated effort to incorporate the perspectives of diverse communities into our research framework. This collaboration will ensure that our research is inclusive and addresses the unique health needs of all populations in Northern Ireland."

Professor Mahendra G Patel, Director of the Centre for Research Equity, highlighted the partnership's commitment to community engagement: "At the heart of this ground-breaking partnership between Oxford University and Northern Ireland is a dedication to involving patients, the public, underserved communities, as well as health and care organisations and stakeholders in setting research priorities. We want to ensure that research outcomes are applicable, safe and beneficial to all, and that starts with listening to and engaging with the very people we serve, including those who are often disproportionately affected by poorer health and health outcomes."

The partnership launch event featured contributions from key stakeholders, including Health Minister, Mike Nesbitt, Professor Cathy Harrison, Professor Ian Young, Laura Collins, Professor Mahendra Patel, Professor Richard Hobbs, and Dr Janice Bailie. They addressed various aspects of the partnership, such as its importance for Northern Ireland, the significance of research equity, and the strategic role of the collaboration in developing and implementing a new NI Research and Development strategy.

Professor Richard Hobbs, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, emphasised the long-term vision of the partnership: "This is not a one-time initiative, but rather a long-term commitment to advancing research equity and improving health outcomes in Northern Ireland and beyond. By building a strong foundation of collaboration and community engagement, we aim to create lasting change."

The CfRE-Northern Ireland Partnership represents an unprecedented cross-sector collaboration that has the potential to transform health research and outcomes in the region. The new partnership is the first of multiple ‘hubs’ the CfRE is hoping to set up across the devolved nations and England. By working together to prioritise equity and community engagement, the partners aim to build a healthier, more inclusive future for all.

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