Next month will see operations kick off at what is being billed as “Europe’s leading health research powerhouse”, the London-based UCL Partners.

By pooling the resources of five academic health centres in the UK capital, UCL Partners will be able to treat over 1.5 million patients a year while producing world-class research in key areas such as cancer and heart disease, it says.

The venture partners are University College London (UCL), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH), Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

With combined annual turnover of around £2 billion, they will support more than 3,500 scientists, senior researchers and consultants focusing initially on research into the nervous system, children’s health, heart disease, transplantation, immunology, ophthalmology, deafness and hearing impairment, dental and oral disease, cancer and women’s health.

According to Malcolm Grant, president and provost of UCL, these areas were chosen “because in all of them we are already leading the way in the UK or Europe. Our goal is to build on that reputation and become genuinely world-class in as many of those areas as possible”.

There are already strong and productive links between the member organisations. For example, UCL works with the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust through the UCL Institute of Child Health. This is the largest paediatric and research partnership outside North America and Britain’s leading partnership for gene therapy, UCL Partners noted.

In addition, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has an existing partnership with the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, while the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust’s Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, has tied up with the UCL Ear Institute.

As UCL Partners points out, setting up Academic Health Science Centres, which bring together research, education, teaching and healthcare delivery, was one of the major reforms recommended in Health Minister Professor Lord Darzi’s review Healthcare for London: a framework for action, which was published by NHS London in July 2007.

More recently, Lord Darzi reaffirmed the importance of Academic Health Science Centres as a central plank of National Health Service reform in his final report from the NHS Next Stage Review, High Quality Care for All.

Professor Sir Cyril Chantler, chairman of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, said the centres had been shown worldwide to “improve the transfer of innovation into practice, in order to improve people’s health and healthcare. London needs to strive to lead in health, a world class city should settle for nothing less. UCL Partners has the capacity and potential to work together to make this happen.”