This phase in the innovation journey is all about experimenting, prototyping, testing and making a business case for your idea. Making the case is what our Health Innovation Programme (HIP) is all about. It’s a boot camp that helps innovators refine their ideas and develop them into viable business propositions that could have a real impact on health outcomes.

Testing is needed to establish whether the idea can be developed ready for widespread adoption. This is where our Future Challenges programme comes in. The programme identifies promising innovations and applies and evaluates them in a real world setting to see if they can be used and add value to our local health care system.

Our Learning Disabilities Collaborative innovates by design, using proven methods for active collaboration to encourage uptake of interventions that improve health outcomes for people with learning disabilities.

This is what innovation is all about: collaborating with others on shared goals, finding ideas with real potential, exploring how they can be implemented and demonstrating they offer benefits.

Health Innovation Programme

Developing an idea into an ‘NHS-ready’ product can be a daunting proposition. To support innovators from across the region to develop their idea, or early stage innovation (product or service), we created our Health Innovation Programme (HIP).

In October 2019, 15 delegates attended HIP which is an intensive, fully-funded, four-day personal development course, to build core skills in entrepreneurship. Their innovations ranged from antenatal classes and accessible gyms to an antibiotic susceptibility test. We created this programme, now in its fifth year, in partnership with SETsquared, the global no.1 university business incubator.

Helping entrepreneurs from the West of England to develop business propositions with real potential for health and care, the boot camp builds skills including market analysis and funding strategies. To help navigate this complex sector, delegates also benefit from tailored health and life science sector specific modules, such as ‘the NHS as a market place’, health economics, regulatory standards, and collecting and evaluating evidence. The boot camp also provides delegates with the opportunity to pitch their innovation to an experienced panel in a supportive and friendly environment.

Since its inception in 2015, we’ve run six HIP boot camps, attracting 99 innovators. Delegates have included aspiring entrepreneurs from all of our member NHS trusts and universities.

A recent survey of our HIPsters (as HIP participants are known) showed there is significant interest in developing a HIPster alumni community. We are now building an online community space for HIP alumni to continue collaborating and sharing learning.

“HIP was incredibly informative, not just the guest speakers, but also the AHSN team who were there to support. The programme gave me an opportunity to take time out and review my wellbeing app, understand the market and receive feedback and suggestions from others. I came away with a notebook of next steps to consider to continue the development of the product.

Since attending the continued support has been fantastic. The team have kept me informed of other opportunitiesto continue to develop and market the product. Having this continued support and expert advice from the AHSN team and alumni has really helped, especially as someone who works as a sole trader.”

Zoe Thompson, Phoenix Life Coach, HIP delegate, October 2019

The Future Challenges

The Future Challenges is a ground-breaking West of England AHSN programme, which focuses on facilitating opportunities between innovators and healthcare providers to match our local clinical and service needs with innovative solutions.

During 2019/20, the programme worked with partners to conduct trials and generate evidence to support the introduction of promising new products to address identified challenges in community care, hospitals and schools. The evidence from the evaluations will then be used to support future commissioning decisions.

Working with our members and key stakeholders, including clinicians, commissioners and healthcare managers, the programme followed an open innovation methodology – identifying our local clinical priorities that may benefit from innovative solutions. Two themes were identified: keeping healthy at home, and young people and mental health resilience.

Two national calls for innovators were issued. Expert panels selected three of the most promising solutions, which were paired with local health and care and education providers. Specialist independent evaluators will validate the impact and potential scalability of these innovations.

The selected innovations address needs around:

  • Helping people manage their own condition through individualised programmes of physical activity, supporting people to get up and about again
  • Building and promoting mental health resilience in young people in school settings.

In response to COVID-19, from March 2020 appropriate adjustments have been made in the clinical and education settings to continue delivering the Future Challenges trials.

Learning Disabilities Collaborative

People with a learning disability die on average 22-27 years earlier than the general population and many of these deaths are from avoidable causes, such as pneumonia and sepsis. These are the findings of the national Learning Disabilities Mortality Review programme, based in Bristol.

In early 2019, we set up the Learning Disabilities Collaborative to address this health inequality, working with NHS England and NHS Improvement. The Collaborative is made up of clinicians, paid and unpaid carers, people with a learning disability, and people who work at regional and national levels in healthcare systems.

The Collaborative focuses on three areas:

  • Promoting use of the National Early Warning Score 2 tool (NEWS2) and soft-signs tools to support early identification of physical deterioration.
  • Increasing uptake of annual health checks, and standardising the quality of these.
  • Increasing uptake of flu vaccinations, including promoting the nasal vaccine as a reasonable adjustment for people with a severe needle phobia.

We used focus groups to engage with paid and unpaid carers and GPs in order to understand the obstacles to people accessing these tools and receiving these services. The resulting ideas and improvements were shared at two Collaborative events in April and October 2019.

Today the Learning Disability Collaborative has over 200 members, with representatives from 90 organisations across the region.

The Collaborative paused activity at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but recently hosted two well-attended webinars for people to share innovative approaches to care during lockdown.

“The Collaborative is a joy to work with. Membership spans much of the local health and social care system and includes many experts-by-experience. It offers a unique collaborative space that is open to anyone with an interest in reducing health inequalities for people with a learning disability.”

Hannah Little, Learning Disability Collaborative