Where we work

Our population of around 2.3m live in one of the least densely populated parts of the UK with over 600 miles of coastline.

Somerset countryside rural scene

Combination of coastal, rural and urban settings creates significant challenges in delivering services and improving population health

Variation across the region in access to care, quality of care and opportunity for a healthy life

Systems challenges include higher than average health and care vacancy rates

Our work is focussed across the counties of Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, Devon and Somerset.

The South West has a relatively stable, ageing and growing population, supplemented during the summer months with a significant influx of seasonal workers and tourists. Our region comprises rural and isolated communities on its moors and coastal areas, along with urban populations in the cities of Plymouth, Exeter and Truro.  

Our population health challenges

Alongside the challenges of delivering services in dispersed rural and coastal communities, our densely populated urban environments generate different types of population health issues. As a result, people living in our region can experience health and health & care services in very different ways.

Although overall population health of the region is good, there is variation in access to care, quality of care and individual opportunity for a healthy life. For example, in some parts of Cornwall, the average journey time to a GP is 20mins in comparison to an England average of 9mins. Coastal towns like Ilfracombe and urban areas like Plymouth have particularly high levels of deprivation and poorer health outcomes than average for children and young people. Whereas in isolated rural areas of Cornwall, deprivation and poorer health outcomes are more widespread across the population.

Our systems challenges

Our systems are structured into three Integrated Care Systems (Somerset, Devon and Cornwall & Isles of Scilly) consisting of nine NHS Trusts and over 2,000 community providers (GPs, dentists and ophthalmologists).

Workforce is a particular challenge across the region with vacancy rates for health and care roles at 8-9% versus the national average of 6%. For example, consultants typically caring for 11% more patients than average and our rate of high speciality trainee doctors per person is significantly below the national average.

In the South West

Deprivation is, relatively, more of an issue for children than elderly people.

Children are 2.9x more likely to live in the lowest decile for deprivation.​

​There are challenges in delivering equitable care across the whole population with an older, aging population.

Already over 25% of the population of our region are 65yrs+ in comparison to the national average of 19.3%.

Our citizens are isolated from each other and services.

In Cornwall, Torridge, and Sedgemoor around half of their respective populations live more than a 30 minute drive from their nearest hospital (compared to only around 13% nationally).

Impact of COVID-19

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the longstanding issues in the region has resulted in a challenging operating environment for our health and care systems.

In parallel, local systems are facing increasing pressure to deliver within existing annual budgets and to implement the new structures to formalise our new Integrated Care Systems and make progress on long-term population health improvement.


Strategic approach to research and innovation for the South West Peninsula 

A collaboration of partners in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset are developing a long-term vision for research and innovation in the South West peninsula and a five-year strategy for delivery.  

Working together, we will focus research and innovation around three to five priorities where it is most needed and can offer the most impact across the region.  

To inform this work we will be facilitating a comprehensive programme of engagement over the coming months. This will enable us to gather intelligence, research, data and insights from a range of professionals across health and care sector.   


This is an opportunity for the region to unite around a shared vision for research and innovation in health and care.  

The partners collaborating in this work come from the health and care system across the Peninsula and include: the Cornwall, Devon and Somerset Integrated Care Systems, the NIHR Clinical Research Network, the NIHR Applied Research Collaborative South West Peninsula, South West AHSN and the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter. 

We strongly believe that we can better support population health by working together on research and innovation that will lead to the best outcomes for patients and workforce in our communities, as well as new avenues to access and attract investment opportunities to the region. 

The South West Academic Health Science Network will be facilitating the development co-creation of a long-term vision and strategy for this work, on behalf of all partners. 

Read more here.

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Read more about the work of the South West AHSN in our Annual Review 2021-2022

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