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The AHSN Network webinar ‘Update on research and innovation infrastructure’ at the HSRUK conference was an excellent introduction to the ‘alphabetti spaghetti’ that is the current research infrastructure and how it’s meeting NHS needs.

Deep breath … AHSC (Academic Health Science Centres), ARC (Applied Research Collaborations), AAC (Accelerated Access Collaborative) and AHSNs (Academic Health Science Networks).

We are good at innovation, but less effective at implementation at scale. This infrastructure is designed to help – but it IS complex. I work in an ARC, which is embedded in an AHSN, and linked to an AHSC! I know what they are and what they do, but articulating this in a clear and easy way would be a challenge.

So the presentations by three AHSN chief officers – Mike Roberts, Gary Ford and Zoe Lelliott – plus Eileen Kaner from an ARC perspective were helpful in describing each organisation, their functions and their links. It is clear that collaboration is a big part of their future.

Underlying all this is the concept of the ‘innovation pipeline’ from idea to implementation – AHSCs at the discovery end, AHSNs more involved in upscaling and ARCs between them focusing on evaluation and implementation science. The pipeline is a nice image and has some utility but it is important that it is seen as a shorthand summary, rather than a detailed route map. System-level work may not fit this model, and quite a chunk of applied research may be a poor match.

We also heard about the interesting results of the AHSN survey on NHS priorities for research and innovation. Many of the themes will be familiar (mental health, digital, integration), but the interesting one for me was the priority afforded to workforce. This is another important area that doesn’t really fit the pipeline model.

Evidence-based innovation is critical to meeting current and future challenges in the NHS and social care. We now have an infrastructure to support this. The next challenge is to show we can accelerate adoption of the right innovations into practice – innovative technology alongside new workforce roles, services and ways of working.

Follow Peter on Twitter: @bowercpcman

Watch the AHSN Network research and innovation webinar here.