Turbo charging AHSNs to spread health innovations

* This blog first appeared in the HSJ Online.


Speeding up the spread of great innovations in the NHS is what we are all about in England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).

And now we have been turbo charged with the announcement from the Office for Life Sciences of an £86m package of funding over the next three years, to help introduce and spread innovations that will help patients.

Almost half of this funding will go to the AHSNs to coordinate ‘Innovation Exchanges’ so that innovative new diagnostic tools, treatments and medical technologies reach patients faster.

It is the Government’s first step in taking forward the Accelerated Access Review, which made recommendations on speeding up patient access to new technologies.

It will be our role to assess the benefits of new technologies and support our local NHS organisations in taking up those innovations that deliver real benefits to their patients.

I have been involved throughout the Accelerated Access Review process as a member of the working group which designed the package of support. What’s really impressed me is the number of high level stakeholders from a range of NHS and arms-length bodies who have worked together towards a single aim of improving patient care more efficiently – and faster.

It must be rare for a project to involve senior people from NIHR, NHS England, the Department of Health, NHS Digital, NHS Specialised Commissioning, NICE, the Office for Life Sciences, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority – and the AHSN Network.

We had to work out how to identify the right products; how to help the system adopt them; and how to spread them throughout the country at speed.

All the organisations in the working group will be wrapping their unique support around the businesses and health bodies who get onto this new innovation runway.

But for the AHSNs, our role will be central to making it all work.

We will be building on our existing track record of matching products to challenges; directing our networks and expertise to assess innovations and speed up their spread across our regions and throughout the country.

Since we were established four and a half years ago, we estimate that more than six million patients have benefitted from our input; more than 200 innovations have been introduced through us or with our support; and more than £330 million extra funding has been leveraged to help the NHS, social care and industry partners.

We are excited to think of how much more we will be able to achieve with this well planned and well resourced new initiative.

For businesses, it will mean not only more help to help them break into NHS markets but also, they will benefit from a stronger message to the NHS to take notice of what they can offer to improve care and make savings.

For the NHS, this provides the support they need to enable changes in practices and processes for the innovations to be adopted. Our experience is that even when products are available at no cost and are proved to have an impact, it is no easy matter to introduce them. Making changes, however beneficial, takes up staff time and require a commitment at all levels within a care pathway or organisation.

We will be using our established networks and expertise to act as honest brokers across sectors to bring people and organisations together; we will match local NHS organisations with solutions to their challenges; we will offer expert advice about how to get transformation and innovation adopted; and we will promote opportunities for patients to take part in trials and pilots.

The funding provided is split into four packages. These are:

  • £39 million of funding available to the Academic Health Science Networks, enabling them to locally assess the benefits of new technologies and support NHS uptake of those that deliver real benefits to patients according to the local need.
  • A £35 million Digital Health Technology Catalyst for innovators – this will match fund the development of digital technologies for use by patients and the NHS.
  • Up to £6 million over the next three years to support SMEs with innovative medicines and devices to get the evidence they need by testing in the real world, building on existing opportunities such as the Early Access to Medicine Scheme.
  • A £6 million Pathway Transformation Fund which will help NHS organisations integrate new technologies into everyday practices - this will help overcome more practical obstacles such as training staff on how to use new equipment.

We will keep you updated on the next steps.

Posted by: Dr Liz Mear, on: 24 July 2017