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Innovation, five years on….

Lars Sundstrom speaking at the West of England Healthcare Innovation Expo 2018

Lars Sundstrom, our Director of Innovation and Growth, reflects on our annual conference and how much the West of England AHSN has achieved in the last five years.

A couple of weeks ago we had our big annual gathering – this year themed as a Healthcare Innovation Expo. It’s always a time that serves as a reference point on how far we have come on this journey together with all of you. To me this was special – it was my last one as I’m retiring in March.

The day was as busy as ever, with around 250 people dashing about, chatting away, visiting company stands, attending talks or workshops. As it was drawing to a close and I slumped into a soft chair in a corner to try and switch my brain off I could see our comms team making a bee line for me. ‘Ah shucks’ I thought (or something like that) as I remembered I had promised to do a piece to camera for the event.

So after being miked up, I hear “rolling…”

Uh… what do you want me to talk about?

“How about what was different this time?”

Uh ok, so I launch into it. I can’t recall exactly what I said but you can see the video here.

Anyway, that left me thinking how far we had actually come in reality.

Our first big meeting in 2013 was totally different. There were no companies for a start. This was partly because some in the AHSN were worried about inviting them in case they tried to flog us something. They probably wouldn’t have come anyway since they had never heard of an AHSN.

All we really talked about was what was happening in the NHS and what we intended to do in the AHSN; we had a few things in motion but no impact to speak of.  There weren’t many of us around either – for example we didn’t even have a comms team.

So roll on five years:

Companies are now becoming our trusted partners on the journey to building our Innovation Exchange; slots for them to present at our events are fought over and around 50 of them had stands at this year’s event. Last year we helped around 500 innovators through our business development programme (now used by many other AHSNs), with over 90% of responders to independent surveys saying they valued our help. Our Health Innovation Programmes are now cited as national case studies by NHS Confed and the AHSN Network, and are also oversubscribed several fold.

We are democratising the innovation process through rolling out hyvr – the first ever swarm intelligence platform dedicated to healthcare, changing the relationship with the public and putting them at the heart of the innovation process. Watch out for that one to grow next year!

We are pushing the boundaries on open innovation in health through our Create Open Health Programme in partnership with Creative England and the Wellcome Trust. They are bringing us totally new technology partners from outside healthcare like crytopcurrencies and blockchain and a whole load of stuff that makes my head explode.

We are further refining our test bed and challenge methodology, embedding these now into practice in innovation hubs within our member organisations as a way for them to articulate unmet needs and find innovators to work with.

Our Patient Safety and Transformation programmes like the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) and PReCePT are having a clear impact on people’s lives. There is so much more I could say here but have a look for yourself at all the news stories on our website to see what else we’ve been up to.

Most importantly we have become a net exporter of our programmes to other AHSNs and many of them are now being spread nationally.

But the biggest achievement for me is that we have now become a net importer of talent; our job vacancies are massively oversubscribed so we can recruit the very best. That means lots more ideas keep being generated by a lot of hugely talented bright young people (well, younger than me at least). I think the future is pretty safe in their hands for the next five year licence period.

So the point is this:

If you had asked at our first expo if I thought we could ever have achieved all that in five years, I would have said “Well if we can really do all that in five years, I will happily retire!”

Lars will be retiring in March 2019.


Posted on December 5, 2018 by Lars Sundstrom, Innovation and Growth Director, West of England AHSN

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