Collaborate to innovate – Bringing People, Industry and Healthcare into the mix

It seems clear to me that we are entering into a new era where health service providers and businesses will need to develop new ways of working together and the words collaboration, innovation and co-creation will become absolutely central to our new vocabulary. It is also clear that patients will not only need to be at the centre of care but they, and those that care for them, will need to become active participants rather than passive receivers in their own care. Therefore active public participation will also form part of balancing any equation that leads to sustainable change.

Since I have reluctantly and unwillingly been subjected to watching the ‘Great British Bake’ off by my family I might as well use the analogy to draw a comparison that hopefully will resonate with some of you out there. If we mix the willingness and need of the healthcare systems to change, add the ingenuity and resources of companies, sprinkle in some resources to bind this together, bake it for the right amount of time and top it off with different flavours that people like, well we might just about have a recipe for success which we can replicate.

More seriously at the West of England Academic Health Science Network we have seen at first hand a real desire between the healthcare and private sectors ‘to do business’ together and a willingness of patients and the public to engage, which is why we have put significant time and effort into establishing ways to enhance collaboration.

That’s why to date we have connected 63 companies wanting to work with our healthcare community and facilitated £6m in funding for joint development of innovative solutions between our health service providers and industry. We’ve also provided networking opportunities for 500 plus healthcare and business delegates at our range of events; developed a unique register of 435 medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies operating across our health and social care community; and established an electronic partnering system which has resulted in 100 plus new introductions being arranged between interested parties.

Furthermore we are currently supporting 16 businesses, 30 plus health and social care providers, and four Universities and research bodies in 14 live collaborative projects in the West of England. These are tackling some key healthcare challenges in areas such as atrial fibrillation-related strokes, medicines adherence, independent living, mental health, trauma and diabetes.

Significantly, we have also broadcast this through media channels potentially reaching over half a million citizens in the West of England and had over 100 members of the public submit ideas and participate in co-creation workshops for developing new products with businesses through our design together live better campaign.

Together these developments demonstrate the success of and potential for collaboration and ultimately present an all win situation for businesses, our health and social care providers and service users.

Why AHSNs provide a remedy for the challenges of the NHS

In the NHS Confederation survey of 2015, both NHS leaders and politicians identify the need for change in the NHS. There are areas of disagreement, but one thing that stands out from the survey is the number one answer as to what the solutions might be: “Greater commitment to working collaboratively across organisations”.

This is where Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) have a significant role to play in facilitating such collaborations in order to address the complex challenges faced by our health services. Think about how often we’ve all heard comments like these over the years: “Working in silos”; “Academics not talking to front-line practitioners”; “Industry and healthcare can’t work together”. AHSNs are proving that these mindsets are very much in the past by bringing different stakeholders together – health and social care providers, patients and members of the public, industry, Universities and other research bodies – to improve patient care and their experience.

And in two and a half years we’ve started to make a real difference. We’ve worked with a range of partners to create a game changing toolkit for clinicians and patients to help prevent atrial fibrillation-related strokes. Through our Prevention of Cerebral Palsy in Pre-term Labour project, we have acted on evidence that giving magnesium sulphate to women who give birth at 30 weeks or earlier can reduce the risks of babies having the condition – to date we have trained more than 600 midwives in this practice, helping to cut down on cases of cerebral palsy from birth. And we’ve developed a unique online platform where our GPs, commissioners and patients can see the performance of different medications both in terms of treatment and procurement, helping to improve patient safety and efficiencies respectively.

These achievements reflect the findings of a recent AHSN Stakeholder Survey which revealed that the West of England is ranked in the top grouping in virtually all areas, with the level of engagement and clear direction of our network coming in for particular praise.

However, what’s most important is not individual performances of the 15 AHSNs in the UK, but the sum of all of us. That’s why we collectively have to mirror the collaborative spirit that we engender in our own local areas. By sharing our experiences and learnings, we will ensure the very best developments that come out of each region will realise their full potential across the country. In doing so, we will emerge as a vital cog in the delivery of new models of care that are required in the future.