The health secretary has given his backing to an expanded “Academic Health Science System” in London, saying the model would “create wealth” for the country.

Andrew Lansley was speaking at the launch of the enlarged University College London Partners, which now includes Barts and the London Trust and Queen Mary’s University of London, among its members.

The partnership covers north east and north central London and includes organisations with international teaching and research profiles and a combined population coverage of three million.

Mr Lansley told the members gathered for the event yesterday: “You enjoy reputations which are capable of being converted into large scale economic benefits for patients.

“At a national level we see [AHSSs] as not only improving the quality of care but helping us create the wealth on which we all depend.

“The NHS can drive that in the future. Six per cent of [global] clinical trial activity used to take place in this country, now it is 2 per cent. We have to get that back up again.”

He also hailed the focus on population health at UCLP, saying partnerships of its sort allowed organisations to “look beyond” their boundaries and consider what they “bring to populations in the outer reaches of London”.

“A move from Academic Health Science Centres to Academic Health Science Systems gives you a much greater focus on the population” he said, “in the London context especially so. We know in London we have a range of problems but also an incredible capacity.”

The previous government set up five AHSCs in 2009, of which UCLP was one.

Peter Morris, chief executive of Barts and the London trust which will have a turnover of £1.1bn if a merger with Whipps Cross and Newham hospitals goes through, said the partnership would help the trust take forward work on cancer, cardiovascular disease, children’s services and stroke.

Professor David Fish, chief executive of UCLP, said the expansion would see the partners work together on improving pathways for specific conditions across a larger population base.

He told HSJ: “Working in partnership across traditional boundaries creates a focus on patient and population health gain that energizes staff to create innovation and delivery at greater pace and scale. This has relevance and benefit locally regionally and nationally.”

UCLP has taken the lead on re-designing London’s stroke network, something NHS London last week said had averted 214 deaths a year.

The programme has seen interest from other strategic health authorities and there are now shared metrics for stroke across the north-east and north-central London clusters.

Other workstreams include large scale projects on nurse training, mental health and cancer.

Five mental health trusts are working together with universities under the partnership’s umbrella on a scale thought to be the biggest in Europe.

The drive would involve some 11,000 clinical staff, a concentration allowing deeper focus on sub-specialties, and aim for a greater standardisation of pathways and outcomes.

Chief executive of the Anna Freud Centre in north London and UCLP’s programme director for mental health Peter Fonagy told the meeting: “It will mean best practice can be shared and outcomes aligned, outcomes that are owned by patients. [The programme] also allows us to take a leadership role in linking physical and mental health. For the first time in some time mental health is sitting at the same table as cardio-vascular health, cancer and the others.”

London’s cancer networks have been divided into two with the integrated UCLP network, London Cancer, working across NCL and NEL.

The event at the House of Lords saw the combined research power of the new partnership detailed by senior experts in their field.

Professor Richard Trembath, vice president of health at Queen Mary, said there was an increased scope for “pulling through” the benefits of biomedical research into some of the rarer diseases.

He also cited the importance of the two large undergraduate dentistry schools in NEL and their potential to improve population health across the partnership.

Director of academic health sciences at Barts and Queen Mary professor Jo Martin said the new arrangement would help recruit international talent.

She told the Secretary of State: “Our staff are now part of a world-class AHSS which is visible from New York. They’ve always been part of a great academic institution but now they are part of a bigger entity. It will deliver an enquiring workforce who will drive quality.”

Professor Sir John Tooke, vice-principal of health at University College London, said reaching a “critical mass” was important for biomedical research and that the ability to “get evidence into practice” and change behaviour was “fundamentally strengthened” by the partnership.

Sir Robert Naylor, chief executive of University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, asked in his presentation whether the benefits of an AHSS were only applicable in the five geographic areas that already had an academic health science centre.

“One of the major questions that faces the NHS in the future is why haven’t other parts of the system done it?” he said.

Professor Mike Roberts, dean for students at Barts School of Medicine and who has lead on a COPD pathway programme in north east London, said the initial contact behind the partnership had come from the Health Innovation and Education Clusters (HIECs) launched in 2009.

There are 17 of these nationally and he said they should be considered “the AHSS’ of the future”.

HSJ revealed earlier this week Imperial College Healthcare Trust was moving to an academic partnership model more like UCLP and that Bristol intends to launch one next year.