The Next Five Years – Lessons from the First AHSN Licence

By Dr Séamus O’Neill,15th June 2018

We are delighted about the recent confirmation from the NHS England Board that the 15 AHSNs are to be relicensed for a further five years. The new licence will cover commissions from NHS England, The Office of Life Sciences (OLS) and NHS Improvement.

So we begin the second licence period with: –

  • Core funding from NHS England and a brief to support local transformation through our Integrated Care Systems and to deliver on a series of NHS England National Programmes
  • The OLS work is to implement Innovation Exchanges and support economic growth through work with industry and to mobilise NHS and Social Care expertise in the development and deployment of innovative products and services
  • Our commission from NHS Improvement is focussed upon the delivery of the Patient Safety Collaboratives

The AHSN North East and North Cumbria (AHSN NENC) is well placed to deliver on these expectations. We have established a local mandate for our work by delivering value for the NHS Trusts, CCGs and Universities that are our Member Organisations. This means that when we identify innovations or undertake National Programmes that add value to our clinical systems, we have a willing and capable network of practitioners with whom we can work. Furthermore, we are fortunate to have NHS Trusts and CCGs which understand that innovation and improvement are necessary strategic capabilities.

Our Medical Director, Professor Julia Newton is leading on, amongst other things, delivery of the NHS England National Programmes. The National Programmes will focus upon local implementation of improvement initiatives that have the potential to deliver significant benefits in terms of health outcomes and system efficiencies. In Programmes such as: PReCePT, Emergency Laparotomy and Atrial Fibrillation detection and management, the approaches that have been central to the AHSN NENC working thus far, will continue. We will work with the expertise and clinical networks within our region and we will use improvement methodologies that are appropriate in each instance.

Our care system is also already working with industry at scale and recognises the value of early access for patients and practitioners to industry-led innovation. The development, assessment and evaluation-in-practice of novel technologies, for example, happens at scale across the NHS in our region. This is particularly strong for example in the context of our NIHR Clinical Research Network, but it is also widespread in routine practice where digital, telehealth, diagnostics, med-tech, robotics and many other types of innovative companies are evaluating and deploying products in the NHS.  This is the NHS adding value for the UK economy and supporting job-creation and inward investment. The power of the NHS as a force for economic growth is under-recognised. Dr Nicola Wesley and the Economic Growth Team have been at the forefront nationally for many years in establishing The Innovation Pathway as a concept. They are making visible the extent and value of mobilising capacity within our region in support of companies working with the health and care system. Through our work with the OLS we will, locally and nationally, make this contribution more visible and make the case for greater capacity in the NHS to do it.

Our Patient Safety Collaborative (PSC) is perhaps our best example of mobilising and supporting networks of practitioners to good effect. Under the leadership of Dr Tony Roberts, our PSC epitomises the principles we aspire to as an AHSN. The PSC Team and Executive routinely:

  • Take on programmes requiring cross-organisational and system-wide approaches
  • Mobilise expertise and leadership within the region but calls on national and international solutions
  • Work on problems that have a local and national significance
  • Demonstrate the value of the AHSN NENC as the honest broker and safe space for cross-regional working

This latter is still the USP of the AHSN NENC, both regionally and the AHSN Network nationally. The AHSN system has its origins in the need for regional reach and local buy-in across health economies in the post-SHA world (anyone remember the Innovation, Health and Wealth Report published by the Department for Health in 2011?). We have been very fortunate in North East and North Cumbria, that our senior leaders see the value in this and have supported the AHSN NENC in its mission. Our Board continues to comprise, and have full buy-in, from the CEOs of NHS Trusts, Accountable Officers of the CCGs, and Deans of Faculty. Our mandate to act within the region stems from this commitment. Further, with this high level buy-in, challenge and oversight; mobilising networks of practitioners towards national adoption of particular innovations; harnessing NHS expertise at scale in support of economic growth; or collectively addressing issues of patient safety across a region with a population of 3.2 million, becomes possible.

So, while ‘possible’ is good, we are confident that the optimism, leadership and sense of opportunity in the AHSN NENC Core Team, as well as in the wider AHSN NENC practitioner networks, will allow us to go from strength to strength. We will deliver on our licence objectives set by NHS England, the OLS and NHS Improvement and we will do so by continuing to add value for the NHS Trusts, CCGs, Universities and Industry through which we work. Those principles were at the heart of the AHSN movement when it was established 5 years ago and they are no less relevant today.