ABHI Membership

ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. AHSNs: The Key Innovation Arm of the NHS

This year has seen some important milestones for England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), which were set up by the NHS in 2013 to drive the uptake of health innovation and support economic growth.

Firstly, the 70th anniversary of the NHS highlights the imperative for our health system to innovate and transform if it is to meet its future challenges and grasp the opportunities.

And secondly, the AHSNs were relicensed by NHS England with an enhanced remit to operate as the key innovation arm of the NHS.

It’s no secret the NHS faces unprecedented challenges as it seeks to manage increasing demand. People living longer with more years of ill health, alongside pressures on finances and contraction of social care, makes it harder to provide services that meet the complex needs of our diverse population.

In recent years the NHS has delivered enormous efficiencies but to meet the tomorrow’s demands we will need to do things differently: to innovate.

The UK is home to some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and unlocking this engine of innovation has the potential to transform health services.

However, spreading innovation is a challenge and it can take fifteen years for medical innovations to progress from pivotal studies to widespread use.

AHSNs help speed things up: we operate locally and also come together nationally to work across health and social care, industry, third sector and with research organisations to progress the adoption and spread of innovative technologies, systems, processes and pathways.

Collaboration between the NHS and industry is critical to capitalising on the game-changing potential of innovation – and in our new licence we will seek to reinforce our collaboration with key organisations including the ABHI.

One of the things that makes AHSNs unique is about ability to support UK industry to develop innovation and our track record speaks for itself: between 2013 and 2018 we facilitated £330 million of investment and helped create 500 jobs.

This was only possible by virtue of the fact we have one of the best MedTech sectors in the world. The NHS and Government - with the support of the AHSNs - must realise this potential for new technologies to drive transformation and generate wealth by exporting innovation.

During our first licence the AHSNs built significant understanding of the enablers and barriers to innovation adoption and spread.

There are many reasons why some innovations gain traction and others that might seem great fail to spread: however the successes share common characteristics including a sound clinical, economic and user-experience evidence base, seeking out champions for change and genuine co-production that seeks out the voice of patients and carers.

Whilst I’m sure these seem obvious points, there are countless examples of projects that fail because they don’t take these issues on board.

With this in mind, as part of our expanded roles all AHSNs are running ‘Innovation Exchanges’, processes funded by the Government’s Office for Life Sciences that bring together SMEs with the NHS to match proven solutions to existing challenges.

We also recognise the NHS is complex to navigate, particularly for smaller commercial enterprises, and so we have created the ‘Innovation Pathway’ to provide advice and support from ideas through to testing, evaluating, developing strong business cases and successful commercialisation.

To find out more about what we do and how we can help contact your local AHSN – our contact details are at www.ahsnnetwork.com

For examples of how we’ve supported MedTech innovators to develop new technologies, visit the Atlas of Innovations.

Mike Hannay, Chair of the AHSN Network and Managing Director of East Midlands AHSN