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The innovation journey

It’s never been more important for the NHS to harness the enormous potential for research and innovation to help transform health services and improve patient experience and health outcomes.

Put simply, the mission of the West of England AHSN is to speed up the pipeline for innovations to get proven and affordable innovations to patients faster. And yet this doesn’t begin to describe the scale and scope of our work.

Innovation is not a single action. We see it as a journey. As that journey progresses, ideas develop and grow, until they are tested and then implemented, and may eventually go onto change whole systems of health and care delivery. This is the ‘innovation spiral’, outlined below. Our work programme involves projects and activities across the whole innovation journey.

Invention

The innovation journey typically starts not with a solution, but a question or challenge. Often the help we provide can be in defining the problem.

Our work programme is designed to respond to the priorities for innovation and improvement of our local health and care systems. To inform this we have cultivated active networks and communities of health and care professionals, and we bring people together to help them collectively identify and articulate the needs and challenges that would benefit most from new approaches.

Many ideas show promise, but selecting those that can be applied to genuine needs, and then refining them is the next stage. We support many healthcare innovators at this stage, such as through the Create Open Health programme, inspiring new entrepreneurial talent, or through our Innovation Exchange.

With rapid advances in areas like genomic medicine nd artificial intelligence, the pace of change in health and life sciences can be daunting. Our Future of Care events help system leaders, clinicians and innovators explore these new frontiers of science and innovation and how they might transform health and care in the future. The more understanding we all have of the challenges and possibilities that lie ahead, the better our ability to shape, select and adopt relevant innovation.

Innovation

Experimenting, developing and testing ideas and solutions are essential steps in making a business case. Since 2015, our popular Health Innovation Programme (HIP) has provided innovators from across the region with the space and support to do just that.

By understanding the needs of the health and care organisations in our regions, we can help match them with promising innovations, agreeing local pilots so that they can be safely evaluated in a real world setting. We call these our Future Challenges.

Improvement

As innovations develop into real world solutions and services, our role shifts to identifying and supporting those with the greatest potential to improve health and care across our region.

This is where our Evidence into Practice programme comes into play. We select innovations with a proven clinical evidence base to spread more widely across the system. Our role now becomes that of a facilitator or guide encouraging adoption and spread, using quality improvement approaches to continue testing, learning, adapting and refining.

Impact

Adoption of innovation is rarely a straight road. Even with credible evaluation and strong clinical evidence, it is not always simple to implement a new solution or service. We work closely with healthcare providers to help them adapt their care pathways and practices to adopt innovative medical devices, diagnostics and technologies.

Through the Innovation and Technology Payment (ITP) programme we provide fixed term support to our member organisations, and as part of the AHSN Network we have been supporting the rollout of seven national adoption and spread programmes.

Ultimately as innovations become adopted, they develop and change the health and care system around them. This can be seen through the expertise of our Patient Safety Collaborative in our work to support the safer care of deteriorating patients, in particular the national adoption of NEWS (National Early Warning Score), which we championed here in the West of England.

Our role in supporting innovation is multifaceted. Our network is broad and varied, and our projects cover a wide range of clinical areas and stages of readiness for implementation.

West of England Academy

This year we relaunched our West of England Academy, expanding our offer to support all stages of innovation and improvement. The Academy is for all health and care professionals in our region: front line, support services and commissioners, as well as business partners. The Academy brings a new level of focus to the work we do in helping the health and care system understand, encourage and adopt innovation.

Our courses and online materials cover the full innovation journey, from gaining a greater understanding of specific opportunities, developing creative ideas, prototyping and testing of solutions through to gathering evidence to support implementation and spread of solutions and evaluation of the benefits.

The Academy aims to support a culture of innovation within our member organisations, encouraging innovation to be seen as part of everybody’s business. Through our support for quality improvement, we’ve learned that ongoing training and development, coupled with the fostering of an active network, can contribute to a significant cultural shift. Helping our members build a vibrant innovation culture is our next ambition.

Courses in the last year included ‘Driving Innovation’, developed with Bristol-based Simpleweb, which was a series of breakfast workshops focusing on ‘design thinking’ for clinical leads and senior managers, and ‘Quality Improvement in Healthcare: the Case for Change’, an online course developed with the University of Bath.

We have a whole range of courses in development. The transformation team at Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) were willing testers of our Foundations of Innovation course that we hope to roll out more widely in 2020. We also have a growing range of online resources at www.weahsn.net/academy.

“We will support each other to be brave – we don’t need permission to test ideas”

‘Foundations of Innovation’ course delegate

Due to COVID-19, we postponed a number of our planned events for the spring of 2020 and pivoted to online courses in the summer with our hugely successful QI Summer Series. We plan to be back in the autumn with an exciting mix of online and face to face (where possible) learning events.