Based on the length of time the country has been and will be effected by the pandemic, it was only relatively recently (May 2020) that NHS England and Improvement instructed health and care providers to restart routine and non-urgent operations and procedures that were put on hold to create more capacity for COVID-19 patients. We are well aware of the additional pressure this has placed and will continue to place on services and the staff members involved in delivering them. It is therefore a key priority to understand how we can help our partners with this approach to restoration of services in a safe way as part of our support for national and regional conversations on reset, restoration and recovery of healthcare services.
Our unique position between the NHS and industry enabled us to help the NHS response in the early stages of the pandemic. For example, as a Network we worked quickly to support the NHSX call-out to innovators for digital solutions to help the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating during COVID-19 as part of TechForce19. 1,643 applications were received in just one week and 18 companies were awarded funding up to £25,000 to rapidly test their products over a two to three week period, each supported by an AHSN. The regular support we offer and contact we have with industry provided a wide pool of innovations that proved invaluable at this time. If we take this approach of looking to digital health innovators to input into the restoration of services, the AHSNs have the potential to widen the pool of evidence-based innovations that can really make a difference to this process.
The restoration of services and the potential of digital technologies to support this was a point of discussion in a recent round table I chaired on behalf of the AHSN Network. The round table titled ‘Lessons learned and lived experiences of industry during the pandemic’, brought together industry innovators, senior NHS and health leaders, government representatives and AHSN colleagues to outline the key themes we need to recognise in order to rebuild and strengthen the NHS.
This round table was extremely useful to understand the perspectives and the part innovators can play in this process, sharing their experiences and learnings of providing their products and services during the pandemic. The input of industry and the learnings we can take from innovators and their experiences of COVID-19 shouldn’t be underestimated.
On the round table we heard from Chris Barker CEO of Spirit Health Group, who talked about how the singular focus and shared goal across the system helped projects that they were expecting to implement over a number of years to be in place in a number of weeks. He attributed this new appetite to a change in the perspective of risk and willingness from clinicians to try new things because they knew they had to act. Chris talked about the impact of this for their innovations such as their remote monitoring technology for people with respiratory disease and COVID-19 assisted discharge technologies.
Chris finished on the point: “If I had to pick one thing that worked it’s that if we all pull together to focus on trying to achieve something then the response we can get is astounding. We have managed to come through something and make a really big difference in a short period of time.”
Extending on this, it really is imperative that we keep learning and collaborating and we not let this shared focus and appetite to try new technologies dwindle – particularly when in this challenging time we can use technologies to ease the pressure on some of the services that have been put on hold and improve the overall experiences of patients.
If we work together, innovation could have a large and lasting effect on NHS services in this turbulent time and beyond. I personally look forward to understanding some of the positive long-term impacts we can make by working more collaboratively.