The NHS is an economic asset

By Dr Séamus O’Neill, 18th December 2018

AHSNs are supporting economic growth by brokering interactions between the NHS and companies, explains Dr Séamus O’Neill, CEO of The AHSN NENC and chair of the AHSN Network.

The launch of the second Life Sciences Sector Deal earlier this month highlighted again the importance to the UK economy of the triple helix-interaction between academia, industry and the NHS. It also reinforced that while the university sector is adept at articulating and demonstrating benefit from its interactions with industry, the NHS and care sectors are much less mature in their articulation of the value they add to the economy through invention, evaluation and adoption of products and services.

Throughout the second sector deal, there is repeated reference to the NHS as: a fertile source of innovation; important partners in co-production and de-risking of investment; a testing ground for generating evidence of efficacy; and as a crucial, but often challenging, market for products and services.

The new sector deal cites the strengthened role of the AHSNs in improving NHS access to new technologies. The AHSNs are working with industry and local NHS partners to:

  • understand local health and care needs
  • support system navigation
  • provide access to testing
  • support the adoption and spread of products in the NHS.

In the first year of our recent £39 million, three-year contract with the Office for Life Sciences, which has underpinned AHSN engagement with the life sciences sector, we have engaged collectively with 1,173 companies, leading to 86 long-term strategic partnerships for those companies with the NHS. We are about to analyse the impact that our support has had on jobs created and investment secured as a result of the AHSN support. With these figures we will start to quantify the value added by the NHS and brokered by the AHSNs.

If you have a look at the recent AHSN Network publication on our work supporting economic growth, you will see examples of the range of benefits accruing to companies from working with us to access the expertise and opportunities within the NHS.

There are companies such as Kromek Ltd and Pragmatic from the North East, which are applying platform technologies in a health and care setting for the first time and developing new markets as a result.

Oxford AHSN can point to the success of Sensyne Health and the tech company’s expansion and London Stock Exchange listing enabled by Oxford AHSN expertise. The impact of this one strategic partnership is substantial:

  • up to 40 jobs will be created in 2019
  • £5 million will be invested back into NHS patient care and research
  • £60 million raised through investor road shows
  • Stock Exchange Alternative Investment Market (AIM) listing 14 August 2018.

There are many other examples we could cite. The enthusiasm of companies to engage in these partnerships is evidence, yet again, that there are economically important assets within the NHS: facilities; technical and evaluative skills; inventive capacity and existing intellectual property; market awareness and opportunities, to name but a few. We help mobilise these assets in support of economic growth and, by virtue of the fact that we are embedded within our regions and work on behalf of the trusts, universities and CCGs that are our member organisations; we do so with the blessing of the system.

The AHSN Network will continue to broker these interactions as they are essential for both the development of new treatments and pathways and to maintaining a healthy life sciences sector.