COVID-19 has been truly awful, impacting all our lives and putting the health and care system under immense strain. Which is why is it even more incredible to have seen the phenomenal work and innovative approaches being adopted and delivering really positive changes that we want to keep as NHS services and research start to recover.
I’m particularly proud of how the Accelerated Access Collaborative partners and our ways of working have supported the response to the pandemic. For example, by taking a multi-agency approach and using the existing AAC horizon scanning infrastructure we have enabled safe and timely patient access to therapeutics showing evidence of benefit in treating symptomatic COVID-19 patients. As a result, three medicines into the COVID-19 treatment pathway were available to NHS patients within hours of the study read outs and further therapies are under consideration. Also on the adoption of innovation we’ve seen really good examples on the remote consultation software for primary care that’s been rolled out with NHSX and NHS Digital, working with ourselves and the AHSN Network. This helped to achieve 99% uptake of video and online consultation in GP surgeries technologies in only two months.
Nationally, the AHSN Network have been outstanding and were rapidly commissioned to support the COVID-19 response to deliver through their model of operating as a locally connected, coordinated national network. Over 150 AHSN staff were deployed to support areas including front line clinical care and the DHSC-led Medicines and Testing Supply programmes such as through diagnostic validation as well as the support to NHSX and NHS Digital on remote consultations.
It has also been great to see the fruition of some our work which was paused during our team supporting the response to COVID-19, including the NHS commitment to becoming a world leader in the use of AI and machine learning, aiming to reap the benefits that range from faster and more personalised diagnosis to greater efficiency in screening services. We recently announced the winners of the first call for the AI Health and Care Award run by the AAC in partnership with NHSX and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The award ran from 28 January to 4 March 2020 with the winners announced by the Secretary of State on 9 September 2020. It received more than 500 applications from AI developers in the UK and internationally, and a total of 42 awards were made across the four phases with £50m awarded. I’m particularly keen to see the progress with products selected for phase 4 which have been operationally tested in clinical settings, and the award allows for robust evaluation across multiple sites to help build the evidence for national roll-out, including supporting the development of relevant National Institute of Health and Care (NICE) guidance.
As we prepare for winter and living with the virus, we now can’t lose the opportunity to embed the positive changes and partnership working we have seen. We know and have experienced across our work the tireless efforts of NHS staff who undeniably have been stretched and been through so many challenges. We’ve also seen really good collaboration between different parts of the system across national teams, regional teams and local NHS organisations. As well as between NHS and industry. In particular, with some of the support industry has given around diagnostics for COVID-19 by providing their expertise and their people.
The AAC will work to evaluate the lessons from COVID-19 and look at which elements have worked best and we can keep – such as how we can do research more efficiently, and how we can adopt innovation quickly and sustainably.
Our health innovation partners, such as the AHSNs and NIHR, will play an important part in this evaluation to help inform the AAC priorities in supporting the NHS becoming one of the most pro-innovation health systems in the world to ensure we deliver better outcomes for patients.