AHSNs and Alice in Wonderland
"Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."
The Red Queen to Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I was literally out of air after 4 tough years as Managing Director of Entec Health, running incredibly hard to secure a sliver of success with introducing the Silhouette (ARANZ Medical) digital wound assessment solution to the NHS. Then along came AHSNs, the Academic Health Science Networks, like a breath of fresh air, offering much-needed advice and support to help Entec Health continue and run twice as fast.
In our zeal to take an innovative, smart digital solution to the NHS, Entec Health has clocked up interactions with over 400+ NHS stakeholders, ranging from clinical leaders, service managers, front-line nurses, IT Directors to procurement specialists across some 80+ NHS entities. During the company's campaign to engage and recruit early adopters in the NHS, we have had some excellent support from a number of AHSNs. Though it should be noted that the quality of engagement and the rate of success has varied across the range of AHSNs. Often, a major factor is the effectiveness of the liaison partners appointed by AHSNs to manage the industry engagement.
Created in 2013, AHSNs have been getting into their stride with establishing relationships with partner stakeholders and developing joint programmes to deliver on agreed health & social care regional priorities. NHS England describes the role of AHSNs as:
"AHSNs have been established to deliver a step-change in the way the NHS identifies, develops and adopts new technologies and are predicated on partnership working and collaboration between the NHS, academia, the private sector and other external partners within a single AHSN context and across AHSNs."
It would be fair to say that Entec Health has had meaningful interactions with eight AHSNs to date and the company is now actively working with four of these AHSNs, together with partner NHS Trusts. My observation is that the effort to succeed with introducing innovative, enabling technology to the NHS is still a very tough mission but with AHSNs on the landscape, Entec Health now has allies who can give a steer on where we should put in the effort, find potential matches who connect to our value proposition and point us towards supporting resources we can leverage.
As with any "transformation agency", the business of delivering the remit of AHSNs is challenging and there is still a lot of work to be done. A recent survey shows promising progress - the direction of travel of AHSNs is well supported by stakeholders.
"National survey finds 73% of stakeholders would recommend working with AHSNs." AHSN Stakeholder Survey 2015, YouGov
"The NHS needs to deliver a step-change in the way it identifies, adopts and spreads best practice, clinical innovations and new technologies more quickly and at scale in order to meet the enormous challenges set out in the Five Year Forward View." West Midlands AHSN website post 30.10.2015
See full AHSN Stakeholder Survey Report via this link:
Looking ahead to the future and working towards effective adoption of relevant innovative technology by the NHS at scale and pace, Entec Health would propose that AHSNs could look to strengthen support in the following key areas:
1/ Closer links and relationships with strategic decision makers who have budgetary authority and have a remit to engage in strategic discussions and review of emerging technologies ready for NHS adoption. Strategic decision makers such as CEOs, Medical Directors, Finance Directors, Service Managers, Business Managers, Quality/Performance Improvement Managers, Innovation Leaders and Chief Clinical Information Officers in acute AND community NHS Provider Trusts.
2/ Better insights into how NHS Trusts will fund emerging technology investments and how they will prioritise these investments over next 5 years.
3/ Effective procurement strategies that NHS Trusts can use for purchase of innovative, emerging new technologies that come onto the market.
4/ Direct funding by AHSNs for specific demonstrator projects to validate and showcase benefits of embedding new technology to support development of best practice and healthcare service innovation.