A NEW health board chairman has pledged to strengthen ties with Swansea University.
Andrew Davies, who took up his Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University (ABMU) Health Board post this month, has already met university Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies with this in mind.
Together they are drawing up a memorandum of understanding to take the process forward.
Chairman Mr Davies, who until recently served as a strategic adviser to the university, told health board members at a meeting yesterday that developing the "U" in ABMU was one of his top priorities.
A number of ABMU consultants carry out research at the university as well as treating patients. The university is also home to a medical school and research centre — the Institute of Life Science — the second phase of which opened last year.
Mr Davies was told yesterday that clinical vacancies could be more attractive to candidates if they also had an opportunity to continue with research.
The health board has consistently said that problems recruiting certain types of doctors led to the withdrawal of acute medical services at Neath Port Talbot Hospital last summer.
Mr Davies said he wanted to develop a "best in class" healthcare model to serve ABMU's diverse communities.
"Clearly there are big challenges ahead, in terms of finances and demographics," said the former Swansea West AM.
He praised the health board's 17,000-strong workforce for their commitment in trying times.
"Our workforce are our greatest asset," he said, adding: "Our staff deserve greater certainty."
Referring to crises in the banking sector, the BBC and Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, Mr Davies stressed the need for effective leadership.
"They show the importance of good governance, and the dangers of when it goers wrong," he said.
Health services across the Swansea Bay area and beyond are moving closer to their biggest upheaval in decades.
Potential changes in Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot are spelt out in ABMU's Changing For The Better (C4B) vision of the future. C4B is running in parallel to, and sometimes overlaps with, the wider South Wales Programme.
ABMU chief executive Paul Roberts said the health board was "in the eye of the storm", with consultation having taken place and difficult decisions — plus further consultation — looming.
He said: "It is absolutely crucial that we get the public involved in this debate."
Mr Roberts added: "I would like to say a big thank you to staff. They are coping with a great deal of clinical and operational pressure at the moment. It has been very tough over the past couple of months."