When it comes to innovation, the proof’s in the pudding | Dr Liz Mear

Liz Mear

Academic health science networks (AHSNs) are making a positive impact on patient care and delivering a return on investment, writes national AHSN Network chair Dr Liz Mear. 

The role of the 15 AHSNs in England is to deliver new innovations into the NHS, improving patient experience and enabling economic growth for our regions. We achieve this by connecting NHS and academic organisations, local authorities, third sector and industry to help create the right conditions to improve health and generate economic growth.

It is by creating these partnerships that the AHSNs are uniquely positioned to enable faster and greater spread of innovation, and to increase opportunities for industry to work effectively with the NHS.

The AHSN Network recently published its 2016 impact report, which demonstrates the impact all 15 AHSNs have made collectively to address gaps in health and wellbeing, care and quality, and finance and efficiency, as outlined in the Five Year Forward View. It clearly shows how AHSNs are delivering a return on the investment made in them by NHS England.

Highlights of the collective impact made in 2015/16 by the AHSN Network include:

  • 3 million more patients benefiting from innovation, through the NHS Innovation Accelerator
  • 365 strokes prevented, saving lives, reducing disability and saving almost £8.5m to the NHS and social care
  • 33,000 more patients self-managing conditions through the use of Flo Simple Telehealth
  • 500 new products or services introduced to the NHS
  • £20m funding for small businesses to develop innovative products via SBRI Healthcare
  • more than 500 jobs created/safeguarded.
Here are just three examples which demonstrate how individual AHSNs have actively shared outcomes and methodologies to expand for the greater benefit of whole populations.

Speeding innovation in the NHS
The AHSN Network has collaborated to successfully support the scaling of innovation across the NHS through the NHS Innovation Accelerator. In just the first nine months of this pioneering programme, 3 million patients have begun to access new apps, safety devices, online networks, and a host of other new technologies and services, thanks to the support of the AHSN Network.

More than 60 NHS organisations are using one or more of 17 new innovations which aim to improve care by, for example, reducing clinical incidents, helping people to self-care and linking up patients with others or with research schemes.

AliveCor is one of these innovations supported by five AHSNs. It is a mobile heart monitor used via an app on a smartphone that allows the user to quickly access, track and analyse their heart’s health. Heart activity data can be relayed to healthcare professionals to inform diagnosis and treatment planning.

Avoiding strokes
Preventing strokes has been a major focus for most of the country’s AHSNs and collectively the work has resulted in the avoidance of 365 strokes during the year. 

This has been achieved through supporting primary care clinicians to provide appropriate anticoagulation medication to people with atrial fibrillation (a major cause of stroke), introducing digital health technology for patients to self-monitor heart rhythm, and through improving data. In addition to lives saved and reduced disability, this work has saved almost £8.5m in net costs across health and social care. 

Empowering patients to self-manage conditions
AHSNs are supporting innovations and service changes that empower patients to take a more active role in their healthcare. This results in a better experience and improved outcomes for patients and a more efficient service for the NHS. 

One hugely successful example is Flo Simple Telehealth, which encourages patients to manage their own health and wellbeing. It works by allowing patients to text their vital statistics for a whole range of conditions, including diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, from their mobile phone and gives healthcare professionals access to the data in real time. 

The system will alert the clinician if a patient’s reading is higher or lower than expected, enabling them to adjust treatment as required in line with approved clinical pathways. It has been widely adopted across the UK, reaching over 70 health and social care organisations with 33,000 patients registered.

The impact report can be viewed and downloaded via the AHSN Network website and a short video introducing the report can be viewed online.

Dr Liz Mear is chair of the AHSN Network and chief executive of the Innovation Agency. Follow her and the organisation on Twitter @MearLiz @innovationnwc

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