The AHSN Network has released its Digital and AI report: ‘Lessons and Legacy from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Health and Care’ on key findings from a short research study undertaken in June and July to understand how technology has been an enabler in reducing the care burden and coping with the COVID-19 crisis, and to identify what should be sustained in the ‘new normal’ longer-term.
The findings highlight the importance of treating health as our greatest national asset to nurture and protect, with preventative health requiring more attention in the long-term.
Importantly, social care needs to be given the same weighting as to the NHS to accelerate the move towards health and social care integration. Patient pathways need to be reconfigured to integrate NHS and social care around patient and citizen needs so that improved outcomes are the goal, with digital and data technologies as enablers – the means to the end, rather than the end in itself.
The urgency, speed and agility seen with the response to COVID-19 needs to continue, to address the ongoing chronic disease ‘epidemic’ and minimise the impact of future viral pandemics. This includes mobilising people more effectively to solve problems through more flexible roles guided by a shared purpose.
The findings underline the importance of a robust data infrastructure, data operability and common standards to facilitate data sharing within national policy and governance frameworks. This will help to empower people, communities and NHS and social care staff to serve local needs, thereby minimising health inequalities and rebuilding communities in line with the ‘levelling up’ agenda in a decentralised, distributed health resilience model.
Finally, the report argues for promoting access to digital technologies and ensuring digital, information and health literacy at all levels within society – to minimise digital exclusion and ensure health inequalities do not get worse.
Building on these findings a number of key themes have emerged that the AHSN Network is keen to explore with health and care partners as part of the NHS Reset campaign, led by the NHS Confederation:
- Work more closely with Health Education England on adoption and spread of health, digital and information literacy via regional networks – part of cultural change that ‘health is much bigger than the NHS- it is everyone’s responsibility’
- Facilitate and broker strategic partnerships with industry and academia for large-scale, long-term sustainable patient pathway transformation and preventative health, whilst advocating nationally for system incentives and levers to be more supportive of preventative health initiatives
- Play a larger pivotal role in local/regional health improvement, preventative health and care integration working with local authorities, councils and communities
- Facilitate development of decentralised data models guided by centralised information governance and data standards
- Identify more innovative place-based projects to scale up nationally for maximum impact in terms of outcomes- developing local social assets as part of levelling up agenda
- Unleash the behavioural change methods and approaches from the AHSN national and local programmes, including patient safety collaboratives, to provide boots on the ground support to COVID-19 reset transformation initiatives
- Scale up the AHSN Network’s strengths in real world evidence and evaluation, including developing models and support tools around implementing innovations and implementing evidence
- Provide more dedicated support to drive healthtech innovation into the NHS, including advising SMEs on key NHS needs, so they can focus limited resources on these innovations and develop successful commercial strategies
Going forward, the AHSN Network welcomes further collaboration and discussion with NHS Confederation and partners across health and care to determine how to make some of these ideas a reality – thus harnessing the AHSN Network’s considerable skills and experience to best effect, to lock in the beneficial changes brought forward during first months of the COVID-19.
Gary Ford, Chair of the AHSN Network and Chief Executive of Oxford AHSN, says: ‘Changes triggered by the pandemic have shone an important spotlight on how digital and AI solutions can be used to make services more accessible, make it easier for people to self-manage their health conditions, help people connect and collaborate across organisational barriers, encourage physical activity, and so much more.’
Guy Boersma, AHSN Network Lead for Digital & AI and Managing Director of Kent Surrey Sussex AHSN, says: ‘We hope the report and its findings will be of value to the wider health and social care system in guiding future developments and action to nurture health as our most precious national asset.’
The research conducted by the Academic Health Science Network (AHSNs) involved gathering insights from a series of small focus groups in June involving individuals from the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and key health, government and industry players. A short questionnaire was sent out prior to each session to engage with participants on the identified topics ahead of the discussion, as well as to inform the discussion itself.
The AHSN Network was particularly keen to understand how to achieve enduring behavioural change in the health and care system and wider public ahead, learning from what worked during the crisis.
The AHSNs have been supporting health and care partners at a local, regional and national level to introduce and make the most of digital and AI technologies as part of the response to COVID-19, and witnessed first-hand the opportunities and challenges this has presented. This has also involved supporting industry partners and innovators to work in new and different ways with the NHS.
Through their partnership with the NHS Confederation and the Health Foundation on the national NHS Reset campaign, the AHSN Network has been helping to lead a public debate to shape what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This AHSN Network report summarises key learnings from COVID-19 around the use of digital and AI technologies and forms an important part of their contribution to the NHS Reset debate.
NHS Reset is an NHS Confederation campaign to shape what the health and care system should look like in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Galvanising members from across the NHS Confederation and wider partners in health and social care, it aims to:
- recognise both the sacrifice and achievements of the health and care sector’s response to COVID-19, including the major innovations that have been delivered at pace
- rebuild local service provision to meet the physical, mental and social needs of communities affected by severe economic and social disruption
- reset our ambitions for what the health and care system of the future should look like, including its relationship with the public and public services.