Following my recent appointment as Chair of the AHSN Network’s commercial directors’ group, I have been putting some thought into how we can meet new challenges in the marketplace. How do we best help innovators on their journey to adoption of their solutions by the NHS and social care system? What are the current and future needs of the NHS? And what new technology might help tackle some of the critical issues?
One current focus is on recovery of elective care services. There is a huge task to support the NHS in dealing with the backlog of people waiting for elective treatment.
Innovation will never be a magic wand, a collaborative effort is needed comprising many initiatives to tackle the backlog. We will never be able to conjure up more doctors, nurses or other clinical expertise in the short term. However, innovation has an important role to play in terms of helping improve efficiency within the existing workforce, for example by using automation and tools to support and speed up decision making, maximising the transfer of skills between professional groups so that we can deliver the services that patients need.
Like most parts of the health and care system, we have been involved in supporting the response to coronavirus. Innovation has been integral to our approach during the pandemic and remains important as we move towards post pandemic challenges.
We have experienced an accelerated uptake of new technology, and the adaption of pathways and protocols that underpin the introduction of digital technology. However, part of supporting the NHS is understanding how it works and knowing where the pressure points are. We do need to recognise that the system has been working at an increased pace over the past couple of years and there exists a level of fatigue among staff. Therefore, although there is a greater acceptance of digital technology and the need for transformation, we must be mindful to understand where there is capacity to do the work and make changes. And where we can introduce innovation that involves a lighter touch for those without much capacity within the system.
A single front door to the health system
It is recognised that the ecosystem is complex around introducing new technologies into the NHS. Establishing a consistent way to access the health and care system as an innovator has long been an aspiration.
Depending on the type of innovation being brought to market, an innovator will need to obtain a variety of approvals and support from a mixture of organisations within the health innovation ecosystem. As an innovator you could engage with multiple agencies, such as NHS Supply Chain, NHSX (for example in relation to the Digital Technology Assessment Criteria), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The question is when do you need to approach each one?
Making this clear can only benefit innovators and in turn, health and care organisations. Therefore we have been supporting the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) as they develop the National Innovation Service, an online resource which will provide a strong spine of infrastructure to support this complex navigational challenge.
In addition, the AHSN Network will continue to play a lead role in bespoke support for innovators endeavouring to get their solutions into the NHS and social care market.
The Innovation Exchange commission from the Office of Life Sciences (OLS) forms the core remit of those within the commercial directors’ group. Within each AHSN, the commercial director is responsible for delivering a local implementation plan covering the four dimensions of the Innovation Exchange: defining NHS needs; signposting for innovators; real world evidence; adoption and spread.
Greater collaboration between the regional AHSNs will be a key part of delivering this in the most effective way for the whole country. AHSNs were created to work locally with health and care organisations, but inevitably there will often be synergies between regions, or indeed nationally, therefore it will continue to be important to recognise those common challenges and work together to support with a broader response.
A key part of how we deliver the Innovation Exchange commission and something that is unique about AHSNs is our ability to join up health and social care systems, academia, individual innovators and SMEs. A lot of our focus is on brokering those connections, to make innovation happen and break down some of the barriers.
The AHSNs are here to support innovators through the whole innovation pathway. Initially this may include offering advice, guidance and signposting. Later in the pathway, this can result in supporting them to evaluate and generate real-world evidence. When appropriate, this support includes brokering connections health and care partners to support the adoption and spread of the innovation.
I am very open to ideas that the commercial directors’ group can take forward next year, and I am really looking forward to what we can achieve together.
If you are a health and care innovator, you can access useful resources on our Innovation Exchange website.