If you have an idea for a new or improved product or service that can bring benefit to the NHS, the AHSNs can help you explore and develop that idea. Our unique position embedded within regional health systems across England allows us to reach out to frontline NHS staff to establish whether innovations are needed or whether something similar already exists.

1. How developed does my idea have to be?

Innovators can receive bespoke assistance from their regional AHSN at every stage of the innovation lifecycle – from initial idea right the way through to CE marked product and beyond.

However, earlier engagement means that innovators could access key opinion leaders in the NHS more quickly, which can help to shape the idea and understand the value proposition.

Once we understand what you are trying to do, we can signpost, or provide access to, a range of expert support services across the health and care sectors to realise the commercial and economic potential of your ideas.

2. How do I find out if my idea has already been developed?

AHSNs can support innovators at this early stage. The Innovation Exchange is a great resource to signpost you to the AHSNs that can help you to undertake due diligence including analysis of the marketplace, patent and Freedom to Operate searches, horizon scanning, and, crucially, engagement with NHS clinicians.

3. What if someone copies my idea?

It is essential you protect your Intellectual Property (IP) as early as possible. Your AHSN can signpost you to relevant support or may be able to help you understand the process of disclosure, what IP means and how you can protect it.

4. How much do I need to invest to get started? How do I go about funding an idea?

There isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to funding – it depends on your product, service or idea. AHSNs can help signpost innovators to early stage finance and relevant funding or grant opportunities as part of our offer through the Innovation Pathway.

5. How do I know what the NHS needs?

AHSNs have a remit to work with the NHS to identify and support any known unmet needs (sometimes known as ‘demand signalling’). Our role is to broker co-development between industry, academia and the NHS. As part of our Innovation Exchange activity, AHSNs regularly launch unmet need calls which invite innovators to submit solutions to clinical challenges. All unmet need calls will be included on the Innovation Exchange digital gateway on the AHSN Network website: ahsnnetwork.com/Innovation-Exchange

6. How do I know if my innovation would work within the NHS?

The NHS is a unique market – the AHSNs help innovators understand this market. Just because a product or solution works, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work within the NHS. A key element of our offer to innovators is supporting industry to understand the value of real-world validation. We are required to test innovations in the real world to analyse the effectiveness and cost benefits to the NHS. This is informed by regional and local need and seeks to provide the information and evidence needed to enable adoption of the innovation in a variety of settings in the NHS and gives the potential for export to other countries.

7. Who can I turn to for support?

The whole of England is covered by a network of 15 AHSNs that can work together via a national database to ensure you have the correct team supporting you and your idea.

As part of the AHSNs’ mandate from the Office for Life Sciences, each AHSN has industry focused experts available to provide specialist support to health innovators. All the information you need can be found via the digital gateway to the AHSN Network Innovation Exchange, which includes relevant contact details for your regional AHSN.

8. How long does it take to move an idea forward?

It takes a lot longer than you think! The AHSNs will support innovators on their journey to market, to understand the needs of frontline clinicians, what evidence is required, insight into procurement within the NHS, highlight regulatory and governance challenges, support business case development and offer realistic milestones for adoption and spread, as well as helping to understand the barriers for adoption.

9. Who can seek innovation support from the AHSNs?

There are no restrictions on who an AHSN can support, the process will largely be the same for an individual, an SME, an NHS employee or a multinational company – the correct team and support will be bespoke to your idea.

10. How do I get my idea taken up nationally?

All 15 AHSNs across England work together to identify suitable solutions that could be adopted on a national scale. AHSNs support a number of programmes to accelerate the adoption and spread of innovations nationally, including the Innovation and Technology Payment (ITP), NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) and the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC).

Nicola’s interview was first featured in the second issue of the AHSN Networks The Innovators magazine. Read it here.

Connect with Nicola on Twitter.