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Diversity of thought is key to unlocking innovation and improvement

In this new blog, our Chief Executive Natasha Swinscoe picks out her highlights from our new business plan and impact review, exploring what we’ve achieved in the West of England and what lies in store for our Network. But perhaps more importantly, Natasha considers how we go about delivering this work, and highlights the continued need for diversity of thought and experience to drive innovation in health and care.

In the last few weeks we’ve published the West of England AHSN’s impact review and business plan. One looks back at the work we’ve delivered over the last 12 months, while the other looks ahead to our ambitions for the next couple of years.

Both publications have given me reason to pause and reflect: on what we’ve already achieved and what we hope to achieve next.

They’ve also given me an opportunity to reflect on how we work at the West of England AHSN.

I’d suggest the ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’. And arguably, with so many in the health and care sector continuing to grapple with the effects of the Covid pandemic, it’s never been more important to understand the ‘how’ when it comes to the transformation and innovation of our services.

What it means to be a Network

For me, the most important word in our organisation’s name is ‘Network’. We’ve always taken that word and what it stands for very seriously.

Networks are about interconnecting, interacting, exchanging. As a Network we strive to be a collective; a collaborative; a connector of voices and insights, of experience and expertise, of perspectives and perceptions.

Since the West of England AHSN came into being back in 2013 with a mandate to spread innovation across health and care, we’ve focused much of our energy on making our approach as joined-up and system-wide as possible to allow the impacts of our work to have the broadest and most sustained benefit; to be greater than the sum of our parts.

It’s not just about us being ambitious or wanting to maximise our resources, although these are certainly important drivers.

It’s about placing real value on diversity of thought and experience. The more voices you have in the room, the more you can begin to understand the issues. With diversity comes a wider source of insight, inspiration, energy, creativity and commitment.

Providing space for and actively encouraging diversity of thought, experience and ideas are key to unlocking innovation and improvement.

This is what I keep coming back to as I look through our latest impact review and consider the progress of our Network over the last eight years.

Diverse networks in action

Here are just a few recent examples of where I believe putting time and effort into building diverse networks has really paid off…

Supporting digital transformation

As part of the response to Covid-19, we supported local GP practices to connect with patients through online or video consultation. We also partnered with our neighbouring AHSNs to scale up use of remote monitoring technologies across the South West region to support our most vulnerable residents. We had already established a strong network of digital leads across all parts of the health system, which meant the right people could be brought around the table to facilitate rapid decision-making.

The PERIPrem perinatal care bundle

Launched in May 2020, the PERIPrem perinatal care bundle was co-designed with parents and clinicians, to improve the outcomes for premature babies. Working in partnership with the South West AHSN and the South West Neonatal Operational Delivery Network, we supported 12 hospital trusts across the region to deliver this system level improvement project.

The West of England Academy

Our Academy is for all health and care professionals (frontline, support services and commissioners), plus academics and innovators living, working or planning to work in the West of England. Over a thousand delegates attended our online Academy events last year, accessing free training and resources to help them gain knowledge and develop essential skills for innovative thinking and working.

Real world validation

Our Future Challenges programme is an exciting approach to supporting innovators and local partners to pilot innovations and validate them in a real-world setting. The aim is to generate evidence to support the wider introduction of promising new innovations to address identified health and care challenges. A wide range of different organisations were involved, including innovators, clinicians, commissioners, local authorities and schools.

PreciSSIon: reducing surgical site infections

PreciSSIon is our collaborative project to reduce the incidence of surgical site infection (SSI) after elective colorectal surgery. It launched in November 2019 and involves all five hospital trusts in the West of England. The project has reached its target of reducing SSI rates in elective colorectal surgery by 50% by March 2021. It is also estimated that we have prevented 103 patients from developing a SSI since the start of the project, with a cost saving of around £509,574.

The West of England Learning Disabilities Collaborative

We set up the Learning Disabilities Collaborative in early 2019 in response to the findings of the national Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) programme. This provides a space for collaboration, cross-system working and sharing of good practice in a way that did not previously exist in the region in the learning disability community.

The West of England Patient Safety Collaborative

Bringing together local patients and healthcare staff, our Patient Safety Collaborative is made up of all the NHS providers and commissioners across the West, including hospitals, mental health and community organisations, the ambulance service, primary care and clinical commissioning groups. We have been extremely successful in reacting to local priorities, and have delivered several ground-breaking, region-wide projects, including National Early Warning Score (NEWS2)Structured Mortality ReviewsReSPECTEmergency Department (ED) Safety Checklistand Human Factors.

A new era for integrated care systems

We’re moving into a new era for our integrated care systems (ICSs) and the coming year will be a critical time in their ongoing development. A significant challenge will be driving this transition, while also recovering and resetting services in the wake of Covid-19.

At the West of England AHSN, we have proven ourselves as system convenors and we now have an important role to play in supporting colleagues from our three ICS partnerships to bring about transformational recovery and learn from each other, by bringing people together in an agnostic and non-siloed way, across geographical and organisational boundaries.

Looking ahead to our future work programmes, we are in a stronger position than ever to build on this experience. We will provide the space, mechanisms and platforms for diverse stakeholders to come together and play their different parts in the transformation of health and care services.

Key highlights from our new business plan

The West of England Innovation Pipeline (p7)

Working with all those involved in the regional healthcare ecosystems, we will coordinate approaches to speed up the pipeline for innovations through to adoption so that the benefits are available to patients and clinicians sooner.

South West Informatics Skills Development Network (p10)

Working in collaboration with Health Education England, this network will provide enhanced opportunities for the health and care workforce across the region to increase their digital transformation skills and competencies.

South of England Mental Health Collaborative (p12)

The Collaborative empowers people with lived experience and healthcare staff to work together to identify and develop solutions to local problems. All five AHSNs are joining the Collaborative in 2021/22, which means membership coverage for every inpatient mental health service across the South of England.

Regional Perinatal Equity Network (p15)

In response to the growing commitment to address inequality within maternity and neonatal services we have joined together with South West AHSN to host this new network. This invitation is open to parents and patient partners, and all those working within maternity and newborn services, related organisations or with a responsibility or interest in reducing inequalities in the NHS.

The Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) Partnership Programme (p26)

Organisations in the VCFSE sector are uniquely placed to support people and communities. This close engagement is particularly relevant to Covid-19 recovery planning and is well positioned to support the population health based approach adopted by our local integrated care systems. This new programme aims to encourage and support new cross sector partnerships.

There is always more we can do

When it comes to diversity and inclusion there is always more we can do. We recognise that it’s not enough to simply hang an ‘all welcome’ sign on our front door and wait for people to find us. We need to actively invite people in to join our Network and contribute to discussions in different ways.

Our commitment to diversity is therefore a golden thread running through our new business plan. We are currently undertaking a substantive programme of organisational development work focused on diversity, inclusion, cohesion and equality, encompassing individual team members, the organisation as a whole and people in leadership roles.

There are many more connections still to be made and many more voices still to be heard. But I believe we’ve demonstrated the value of working in this way and I for one am extremely excited about exploring new ways for diversity of thought and experience to drive healthcare innovation for the benefit of every one of us.


Posted on July 14, 2021 by Natasha Swinscoe, Chief Executive, West of England AHSN

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