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“So… what do they do?” A view from a new starter

Emma Ryan started with the West of England AHSN Communications team in September, and wrote this blog a couple of weeks into her new role.

In the Summer of COVID-19, I sat at home, 2 months into furlough with the likelihood of looming redundancies in the hospitality business I worked in and had grown to love. I decided I should start looking for a new job, even if the prospect of losing my role hadn’t quite sunk in or became a reality yet.

I have a background in Marcomms, and one of the first jobs in my search I came across was a Communications and Marketing Officer role for West of England AHSN. I do not come from a healthcare background and had no real inclination as to what an AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) was. The marketing aspects of the job seemed to align with my skillset so thought I should do some research, and then I couldn’t stop!

My notes from this research say of West of England AHSN; ‘finding new ideas and research to help make people better and then spreading these ideas’. Hopefully my insight will be a little more articulate throughout this blog!

So, I applied, had an interview and secured the job (congrats me!) Now the real learning would begin. I started at the beginning of September and it really did feel like going back to school. Over the first few weeks, I have met lots of people across the organisation and have learnt so much. Many of my friends and family, when I told them I had this new job, asked “So, what do they do?” Well, here’s what I have learnt so far…

What does the West of England AHSN do?

The NHS isn’t one big organisation; its various organisation of varying shapes and sizes working together to provide health care for you. Sometimes it can be hard for amazing ideas in one place, to be recognised and shared with other providers. It can also be hard to have the capacity or the knowhow to get ideas into fruition in the first place. AHSN’s across the country work to solve these problems.

At West of England AHSN, we do this in two main strands; firstly, Services Systems and Transformation. This is delivering change and adopting new ways of working by bringing evidence into practice. So, making sure amazing ideas are spread and picked up and implemented.

Secondly, Innovation and Growth; this is where we identify a problem. Then we find an innovator who can help, nurture and develop the innovator and their idea, and connect the innovator with an organisation which would benefit from their idea or innovation.

Who are the West of England AHSN?

The West of England AHSN is made up of the most incredible people; they have huge brains and mighty hearts. Sometimes, I felt like a goldfish in a pond with a bunch of koi because they are honestly all so passionate and knowledgeable, it can be a bit intimidating. However, they all have a great capacity for teaching and idea sharing. I have been told on more than once occasion that no question is too small or too stupid!

I would love to tell you about each of them, but I’ll just highlight a few to give you a flavour of who works here. First of all, Kay Haughton, Director of Transformation. Like many people working here, Kay has a background in nursing, and so knows the pressures and challenges front line NHS workers face. She has travelled all over the world undertaking various nursing roles. She saw in her work just how complicated in can be for private companies and innovators to work with the NHS, and so joined us to help manage this problem.

I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting Ben Bennett, Chief Operating Officer. During our first meeting, Ben said, “We are here to speed up the pipeline for innovation so patients get services quicker.” This really stuck in my mind as it’s a clear, succinct way to explain what we do. Ben has previously been a Hospital Manager and has over 30 years’ experience in the health care sector; he is also great at looking after people and runs regular team meetings to check in on us as we continue to adapt to working from home during COVID-19 restrictions.

Since I’ve started, I’ve also been working closely with Millie O’Keeffe, PA to Directors and Project Support Officer. Millie offered to be my work buddy when I joined, which was really appreciated. It can be hard starting a new job, and having her reach out made me feel super welcome. Millie has been my go to for silly questions, such as ‘how do I set up a Teams meeting?’ or ‘who actually is this person?’ …don’t tell anyone Millie!

Why does the West of England AHSN exist?

Simply, to make outcomes better for patients; whether that be providing increased dignity in end of life care or improving patient safety through minimising the risk of infection in surgery. We promote collaboration and idea sharing so that innovations or processes that will help people, get to the front line quicker.

Back in July, I was sat at my Grandads having a cup of tea. He had just returned home after time in the hospital with Pneumonia. He had been very sick and was still recovering and had pretty much lost his voice. However, his enthusiasm, respect and gratitude for the nurses and healthcare professionals that had treated him and really cared for him was in abundance; sometimes a bit too vigorously for an elderly man still recovering from pneumonia!

As we sat and laughed and drank tea, my phone rang. It was Vanesther – Head of Communications at West of England AHSN – to offer me the position of Marketing and Communications Officer. I thanked her, and went to tell my Grandad the good news. He was so proud and said, “so you’re joining the NHS superheroes?” and I thought, not quite, but maybe I can play a part in making their job a little easier; an Alfred to Batman perhaps?


Posted on October 14, 2020 by Emma Ryan, Marketing and Communications Officer, West of England AHSN

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