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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. Why is Greater Manchester Becoming Such a Magnet for Innovators?

In July 1948 Aneurin Bevin walked into Park hospital in Manchester to launch a free healthcare service. This hospital is now called Trafford general hospital and is known as “the birthplace of the NHS”. Although much has changed over the past 70 years, what has remained a constant is the three core principles that drive the health service. Specifically, that it meets the needs of everyone, is free at the point of delivery, and is based on clinical need not the ability to pay. However, continuing to adhere to these principles for the foreseeable future against the backdrop of significant public health challenges and rising costs of health and social care requires a rapid wholesale change in how we work; not only within the health and care system itself, but also in terms of how we interact with our citizens, academia, and industry innovators. Fast forward to today, and Greater Manchester is ushering in a new era for health and social care to tackle these challenges head-on through its health and social care devolution. A novel approach that enables us to agree and work towards shared priorities at a system level, combining all of our health and social care services and building them around the individual and the community for better, more responsive care; reshaping the system so that it is sustainable and works for everyone.

There is not much that hasn’t already been written about Greater Manchester’s ‘devolution experiment’ and having worked at the coal face for almost a year I can understand why. From the outside looking in devolution does appear to have supercharged our ability to bring about the wholesale change required to make Greater Manchester one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old.

However, it’s not devolved powers alone that are enabling such a radical transformation – it’s the regions approach to collaborative working. 

What I have witnessed in terms of the way that health and social care organisations are embracing the devolution opportunity to work in partnership and effect real positive change is unprecedented. The fear of change that so often grips an organisation during periods of transition simply does not exist. ‘One Manchester’ is not a catchy mantra that is portrayed to the outside world, it’s an ethos that drives us all. While devolution is providing us with the tools that we need, it’s our willingness to work transparently and in partnership that is driving success.

Excitingly, this environment is also proving a natural incubator for innovation, not only between providers and commissioners in Greater Manchester, but also researchers, citizens, academia and industry. As a believer in the concept that proven innovation injected at pace and scale into health and social care is a cornerstone to transforming the health and wellbeing of our 2.8m citizens, this is fantastic.

We are changing the game for innovation in health and social care, and this is reflected in the rich pipeline of innovation that has been created for the system through Health innovation Manchester (HInM) – our academic health science and innovation system. Despite HInM being only one year old in October this year, we are already delivering a large and diverse portfolio of innovation projects in partnership with multinational health technology and pharmaceutical companies and SMEs. We have also worked with over 200 fledgling SMEs at varying stages of product/service development, providing access to funding and expertise to help them introduce their new and innovative products to the NHS and social care in Greater Manchester, and further afield through our links with the wider Academic Health Science Network (AHSN Network).

But why is Greater Manchester becoming such a magnet for innovators? Is it because of the digital infrastructure we are building to underpin population health and research, and enable proof of concept in a real-world setting? Is it because our approach allows us to evaluate the costs and benefits of innovations across whole care pathways outside of individual institutions, eliminating perverse financial incentives? Is it because we have a concise view of the system needs that is proactively shared with researchers and innovators? Is it because we have streamlined governance arrangements that facilitate quick decision-making with the ability to commission innovations on behalf of the entire system? Or is it our willingness to be open to collaboration with industry, exploring new business models and deploying proven innovation at pace and scale. I think it is fair to say that all of these play an equal part, and if you were to remove any one of them then the level of interest from innovators would diminish.

Obviously being the ‘first mover’ in the world of health and social care devolution does bring its challenges (we get to make all the mistakes that others may learn from in the future, and what we are doing is highly visible). We are asking providers, commissioners and industry innovators to work with us in a completely new way whilst at the same time affording us the patience to test and embed new processes of working. However, our industry partners can see what we are creating and with their support and that of key industry bodies such as the Association of British HealthTech Industries and their members, we have been breaking this new ground together.

Devolution is enabling the creation of virtuous cycle of partnership working that transcends organisational boundaries. With such a cohesive system bringing together the all the exceptional assets of the city region and commercial partners all working towards shared priorities, Greater Manchester is certainly on track to deliver on its ambition for the fastest possible improvement to the health and wellbeing of its 2.9 million citizens. 

Could we achieve this without devolution? Probably not. But would devolution work without a no fear culture of collaboration, definitely not.

Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive, Health Innovation Manchester