The industrial strategy, right on man!

The government’s green paper on Building our Industrial Strategy was published in January. Our enterprise director, Lars Sundstrom says it’s about time…

Last month the government published its long awaited industrial strategy. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn,” I hear you say. Well, you should. When I read it, I thought to myself, “Finally. They’ve actually got it right this time. Absolutely spot on,” as you Brits would say!

The UK lags far behind other European countries like France and Germany in terms productivity, a trend which is now worsening quite rapidly.  So while our French neighbours enjoy a glass of wine having finished work while we are still toiling away with the longest working hours in Europe for lower output (and hence less money to buy decent French wine), one has to ask, what makes them so much smarter than us?

The science base in the UK is the best in the world. The UK, per capita, has the strongest academic sector by far, especially in terms of scientific output. It outperform its nearest rival the (United Stated) by almost three to one. In other words, the papers written by British boffins are more highly cited than anyone else. The UK has six universities ranked in the top 50, with three in the top 10 (Oxford holding the coveted number one spot), while Germany has only one and France has none.

So although the UK has the best science, its ability to translate that into economic growth seems to be lacking.

Some years before I joined the West of England AHSN I worked in biotechnology and spent a considerable amount of time in South San Francisco, which is where this new industry was born – only around 30 years ago. Biotechnology grew out of genetic engineering and cell biology, both of which owe their foundations to British scientific genius. Yet I remember, as I used to drive down Highway 101 in my open top Mustang, just how many British scientists I met who had brought their technology with them to develop it over there, and how frustrated they were that they couldn’t do that back home.

The industrial strategy is seeking to redress this and it has done two things that, in my view, are absolutely right on:

1) Invest heavily in translational science and infrastructure for applied research, and reward those that do it;

2) Not doing it at the expense of basic science but maintaining fundamental research budgets.

The secret to France and Germany’s comparative success in productivity is their ability to provide the right incentives and infrastructure for applied research and product development/testing, as well as a well-developed industry-university interface. In particular, success comes from the valorisation of people who want to do applied and industrial research and who are not considered inferior to university academics, far from it. The pinnacle is to work for a top company: Vorsprung durch Technik!

I am really pleased to see the recognition in the strategy that AHSNs will play an important role acting as catalysts for the conversion of innovation into new healthcare products and services through our involvement with the SBRI Healthcare programmes, test beds and the new accelerated access partnerships and innovation exchanges.

So I for one welcome this strategy. The government is absolutely on the right track, but it’s going to take a long time; in Germany it took over 25 years of continuous investment. But just imagine what the UK would be like now if that investment had been made 20-30 years ago and the UK had been the home of biotechnology!

Britain started it all with the first industrial revolution, it largely missed the second and third through lack of investment but. as we now enter the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, it looks to me like the UK is now on the right track. See here if you are wondering what the fourth revolution is about.

California’s GDP is now around $2.5 trillion just behind the UK at $2.8 trillion, with biotech contributing about $200 billion, so I have to say thank you Britain for sending over all your scientists and the huge role you have played in building our local economy – I was born in California in case you hadn’t guessed. We will never forget what you’ve done for us, and have a nice day!

Read the NHS Confederation’s briefing on the Industrial Strategy.

Why the AHSN is like a honeycomb helmet

In follow up to her last cycling-meets-leadership blog post, Deborah Evans reflects on the beauty of a new cycling innovation and draws comparisons with how we work here at the West of England AHSN…

Talking of cycling, I was fascinated to read an interview with a woman who had invented a cycling helmet made of paper. In a classic case of design mimicking nature, it used a honeycomb structure.

I’m not sure whether I’ll wear one until someone else has tested it (not just a dummy) and definitely not until it’s been waterproofed.

But I’m enthusiastic about the concept nonetheless, because like cycling itself, paper is very eco-friendly and makes for happiness.

It made me reflect on the similarities and differences with the innovation processes we use here in the AHSN.

Firstly, it’s a great example of ‘innovation pull’.  In this case the unmet need was a lack of helmets to go with the ‘Boris bikes’ which we can pick up on the streets of London and ride at will.

Our equivalent in the AHSN is that we ask clinicians what problems they would like to solve. Sometimes we work with them to identify innovations that are already on the market, having been tested and are ready for use. And sometimes we issue challenges for innovations that are still in the developmental stage. Our favourite, perhaps, is the Small Business Research Initiative (known as SBRI) which is nationally funded. Our latest initiative in this programme was called General Practice of the Future and we called for innovations responding to demand management in primary care; self care and diagnostics and earlier triage.

Another similarity is that we like to invite people who use services to help us design innovative products and services – such as our crowd sourcing project Design Together, Live Better, which in its first phase famously resulted in a prototype child  car seat which you can fasten with one hand.

As far as I could tell from the newspaper article, the honeycomb helmet results from the inspiration of a lone inventor, and we have plenty of those in health – especially clinicians. But Lars Sundstrom, our Director of Enterprise and my innovation muse, tells me that the future for innovation is largely about collaboration and open source activity. This seems to be most effective (many minds are better than one) and quicker. This is a feature of our Diabetes Digital Coach test bed project, where we have a hearty collaboration between a number of small and larger companies and the support of Diabetes UK to create an online service hosting a range of digital self management tools for people with diabetes.

Another reason to love the honeycomb helmet of course is that it’s cheap, and surely that’s what the NHS needs. Effective, cheap and recyclable innovations.

Get folding that paper!

Photo: EcoHelmet.com

Donald Trump to save the NHS!

In his latest blog post, our Enterprise Director Lars Sundstrom reflects on leadership in times of change.

So have I finally gone insane or is there is any substance to this statement? Of course not. But then again, not much of what Trump has promised will materialise: he just said it to win votes, and you can quote me on that.

Being an American, I am saddened by the lack of ability of many of my fellow citizens to distinguish reality from a reality show. But I guess, as that great voice of the nation Homer Simpson said: “I don’t believe in facts. You can make them say anything.”

Now that I have your attention though, I’d like to keep you here to talk about the importance of leadership in times of change.

Last Thursday, David Constantine received his honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and gave the 48th Annual Designability Lecture. What an extraordinary life he has made for himself and so many others despite being wheelchair bound, having broken his neck in an accident at the age of 21. Not only has he over the years been at the forefront of designing mobility equipment for those with disabilities but has managed to travel the developing world and set up local wheelchair factories that continue to make lives better for hundreds of thousands every year who have more to complain about than we do.  And just to cap it off helped set up the charity Motivation to implement new financial sustainability models that employ locals to do it.

You are a truly inspirational leader, Dr Constantine, even though you apparently don’t seem to accept it was anything special.

And then to other inspirational leaders. On Friday night, our MD Deborah Evans received the NHS South West Leadership award for Leading System Transformation; another well deserved accolade to someone who doesn’t think they deserve it. All I can say is that Deborah is one of the most inspirational leaders I have ever met and have had the pleasure of working with.

It’s a beautiful autumn day as I write this blog post, but we are now bracing ourselves for what will probably be a harsh winter in more ways than one: pressure on healthcare to deliver more for less resource has probably never been greater.

Even the most hard-nosed Brexiteer accepts that the economy will initially suffer as we exit the EU and public finances will be tightly squeezed. It’s hard to feel optimistic at times, when some use deception to triumph over reality and make things worse for those of us left to cope with the real world. However, I really believe it’s in hard times that true leaders and true innovation arises.

We will of course cope. The US and the UK have given mankind many of the greatest inventions and lead the world in innovation. In fact, many of the great American reforms and indeed the NHS itself were born out of severe austerity. So this is the time for great leaders to emerge and take the stage. Next week I am teaching a leadership course for university academics and I will be telling them to expect and embrace change. Don’t suffer it. Lead it!

So Trump is not the kind of leader we need right now, and he won’t care much about equality or healthcare. He won’t save the NHS, but I do remember a certain Mr Farage a little while ago…

Digital health recognised as regional strength in Science and Innovation Audit

A recent audit into the science and innovation strengths of the South West and South East Wales has highlighted both health and life science and digital health.

The South West England and South East Wales Science and Innovation Audit (SWW–SIA) has been undertaken by a consortium of key organisations and businesses from across the region, including AHSNs, businesses, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and higher education institutions.

Lars Sundstrom, Enterprise Director at the West of England AHSN, said: “I am really pleased that the Science and Innovation Audit has been able to underscore our local strengths in health and life science, and particularly our strengths in digital health.

“We look forward to working with our colleagues in South West England and South East Wales to continue our efforts towards making it one of the best environments to develop health care products in the world. We also look forward to fulfilling our new role as innovation exchanges with a role for supporting digital health as recommended by the Accelerated Access Review.”

“An opportunity for catalysing the region’s hi-tech SME cluster and the broader entrepreneurial community to respond to clearly defined challenges in the health system identified through the increased investment into health research”

The audit report refers to the region’s strength in leading the development of integrated care systems and suggests this presents an opportunity to “catalyse innovation, including attracting businesses to research, pilot and test innovations in the region, alongside catalysing the region’s hi-tech SME cluster and the broader entrepreneurial community to respond to clearly defined challenges in the health system identified through the increased investment into health research.”

The “exceptional capability” in population health research within our region is recognised in the report as providing companies with access to “world-leading expertise in evaluating the performance of digital technologies in improving population and individual health in the region. When combined with underpinning world leading capabilities in fields such as designing and evaluating complex health interventions wireless and optical communications technologies, data security and encryption and other major projects that are integrating data across, for example, primary, secondary and social care this provides a unique proposition to SMEs and larger corporations and will attract them to develop and grow in our region.”

The report welcomes the active support of the two Academic Health Science Networks NHS England in the region (West of England and South West) in supporting the development of the digital health sector and linking it into the NHS – the primary customer for digital interventions – and into the local authorities who now have responsibility for public health in England.

Our Healthcare Innovation Programme, which we run in partnership with SETsquared, Europe’s leading university business incubator is given a specific mention. This is our popular development programme, created to support healthcare innovators in the West of England, focusing on those with a clear business proposition or an innovative application in the healthcare sector. These are frequently in the Digital Health field.

The report also credits our involvement in both the development of local innovation hubs and the South West Interactive Healthcare Programme, a joint initiative between the West of England and South West AHSNs and SETsquared, financed by Creative England’s regional growth fund, to improve cross-sector collaborations and innovation, while opening up exciting practical opportunities for creative professionals to work with business clusters in the healthcare sector.

The Government has thanked the SWW-SIA consortium for its submission and is expected to make an announcement about its Industrial Strategy in the upcoming Autumn Statement.

Visit gw4.ac.uk/sww-sia to read the full audit report. The summary report is available here, while the Digital Living annex report is available here.

Lost in translation

In his latest blog post, our Enterprise Director Lars Sundstrom reflects on the need for AHSNs to be multilingual.

When I first joined the AHSN three and a half years ago from my previous job at the University of Bristol, one of my esteemed colleagues at the time said I was crazy.

“Don’t go there,” he said. “I’m warning you as friend. People in NHS land speak a different language. They aren’t like us. You really won’t like it there, trust me.”

After being there a week I understood that he was probably right. I had no idea what my colleagues were on about in meetings and they soon got very fed up of me asking the same question, “Why are you doing it like that?”

I had to undergo an induction the following week. I had visions of magnets and coils but instead I was introduced to the patient safety lead.

“What’s patient safety?” I asked. “Is that something to do with making hospitals safe?” She smiled at me and said,  “Well it can be but it’s really about reducing variability across service providers.” I was none the wiser.

Then I was introduced to the improvement lead. “Hi, what do you do then?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, “We apply quality improvement support working in the local workforce to ensure they have appropriate skills to spread best practice.”  “Geez, sounds complicated,” was the only thing I could think of to say.

I feel like I’ve landed on Mars among a bunch of aliens! I have no clue what you guys are talking about in our team meetings.

After my first month our MD called me into her office for a chat. “How are you finding it?” she asked.

“Well, I feel like I’ve landed on Mars among a bunch of aliens! I have no clue what you guys are talking about in our team meetings.” “Don’t worry,” she said, “You’ll soon pick it up.”

I wasn’t so sure. However I was clearly amongst a new tribe of very bright and talented individuals with a passion for what they were doing, so I thought to myself, “Wow, this is great. I have so much to learn.”

“So, tell me about your plans for the wealth creation remit of our AHSN license,” our MD asked. Now, this I understood so I launched into my thoughts about translational medicine and the importance of building trusted partnerships to achieve effective co-creation in an open innovation environment, while encouraging horizontal innovation from multiple sectors and especially the importance of achieving joint value creation rather than operating merely in transactional mode with the private sector.

“Interesting,” she replied, looking at me with an air somewhere between bemusement and intrigue. “So what exactly does that mean then?”

Last week we had our third annual conference on the topic of innovation for sustainability and transformation. This morning I was having breakfast with one of our newest recruits; a bright young chap from a corporate finance background.

“So James, what did you think of the event last week?” I asked.

“Well,” he said tucking into a bacon sandwich, “Honestly, I was totally lost most of the time, didn’t understand what was going on. It’s a different world, clearly.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “You’ll soon pick it up.”

Between bites he then added, “Well actually, the only bit I really got was when our MD spoke about how adopting open innovation and co-creating value leads to cost savings and the importance of partnerships across multiple stakeholders. What’s all this sustainability and transformation stuff all about anyway?”

“Well,” I said, “It’s the local road maps for delivery of the five year forward view.”

“Hmmm,” he said, and I could see from his expression he was none the wiser.

We are what you might call an eclectic mix and what I am looking for most is people who can bring their own perspective on what we do and are not afraid to question what we are doing.

So I realised that our AHSN has now become truly multilingual. I understand NHS speak, though my accent is apparently still a bit rough, and my colleagues now also speak a very different language too.

I have always tried as far as I can to hire people to our team that are as different to me as I can possibly find. We have people from many backgrounds: education, finance, health and government.  We are what you might call an eclectic mix and what I am looking for most is people who can bring their own perspective on what we do and are not afraid to question what we are doing.

The point is diversity of thought; the ability to see things in a different way. Feeling empowered to question the status quo and feeling empowered to do something about it is what really matters if you want to achieve truly sustainable transformation.

As a famous person once said, “We will not solve the problems we have by applying the same thinking that created them in the first place.”

How to make stuff happen…

Today something interesting happened as I was cleaning out two filing cabinets that I had manage to completely fill with paper over the past seven to eight years.

I put everything into two piles, one to keep and one to shred and get rid of. The pile for shredding was pretty big, but so was the keep pile. After a vigorous bout of shredding and filling I sat down with a cup of tea and peering at the two mountains of paper sill left on the floor I wondered to myself, why on earth had I kept so many useless papers?

What was the difference between the stuff I was discarding and the stuff I wasn’t?  I realised that the stuff I was throwing away had been kept because at the time it felt like it was really important, or at least at that time was equally valuable to the stuff I’m still keeping.

Being a bit simple minded I thought, wow that’s amazing, I now have a pile of stuff that has become useless and a pile of stuff that has become valuable.

This obviously holds the secret of all success; all I had to do is see which ideas worked out and which ones didn’t and could learn how to make more ideas work out more often.

So picking up the first folder from the reject pile I mused to myself, yeah well that was a pretty crazy idea, no wonder that didn’t work out. OK, let’s see what’s on top of my success pile. Hmm… actually that’s also a pretty zany idea but that was great success. So I picked another folder off the success pile: absolute no brainer, obvious why that idea worked out. Next, I picked one from the reject pile. OK, so why didn’t that one work out? It was an even better idea than the one I just looked at.

Astonishingly, I had to admit that with hindsight there was no difference between the two piles except that some things had worked out and some hadn’t!

Now this really bothered me  because it means I can’t control it and I can’t use any of the knowledge, but in the back of my mind was a nagging feeling that I had been here before.

In a former life I used to teach a course explaining entrepreneurship to scientists and the one thing they all had a real hard time grasping was the fact that success is not an equation, and it’s not exactly reproducible. You can take the same ingredients in a business proposition that worked last year and try and do it again the next year with the same people and it could fail.

If you think about it, were it to be exactly reproducible we’d all be rich and famous, but in reality stuff happens that we don’t control. One business I was involved with went out to raise funds the week before the markets crashed in 2008. We couldn’t have controlled that.

So the same is true of my two piles, the difference is that other stuff happened and got in the way of things so some ideas worked out and others didn’t. So what is this magical stuff that decides what works and what doesn’t. The things we just don’t control, well I guess it’s just Life.

I’d like to think I am getting better at spotting good ideas from bad ones but i’m still left with the rather stark conclusion that fundamentally the only way to make more successful stuff happen is actually to do more stuff.

But then again I guess I also want to have a life!