Steve West, Chair of the West of England AHSN and Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England, scans the horizon to consider what next for our Academic Health Science Network.

It’s good news that NHS England has confirmed that AHSNs will be granted a second five-year licence from April 2018.

We need a strong economy more than ever and governments of every persuasion will want to see a strong health and life sciences sector and effective regional growth. More specifically the recommendations of the Accelerated Access Review for the NHS see a very strong role for AHSNs in helping to support innovation.

When I think back over these first four years of the West of England AHSN I can see that we have developed some ‘unique selling points’, which will stand us in good stead in the future. I am incredibly proud of our people, our partners and our approach to partnership working that has delivered so much.

High levels of engagement from all our member organisations

We have had tremendous buyin from the leaders of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), NHS trusts and social enterprises, which provides an excellent platform for future work with Sustainable Transformation Partnerships (STPs), which we believe will be a key element in the new AHSN licence.

In 2017-18 we are supporting each STP with dedicated project management resource and a conduit from the AHSN to promote innovation.

Known for our system leadership

We have shown our ability to bring together all parts of the health and social care system to work together to improve outcomes. Our ambitious programme on using the National Early Warning Score (NEWS) to spot and treat deterioration is a prime example, involving every member organisation, all outof-hours providers, scores of GP practices and nursing homes. Senior clinicians were among the first to spot the opportunities for pan-system working.

Build in adoption and spread and capability legacy from the outset

Whether it’s GP Clinical Evidence Fellows, stroke prevention in primary care or preventing babies from being born with cerebral palsy, our West of England organisations have committed themselves to the adoption and spread of best practice and innovation that works right from the very start of each of our programmes of work.

Strong leadership

We have the highest calibre leaders who are supported by excellent teams and a very strong clinical faculty. We are flexible and fast: we don’t let the grass grow under our feet and everyone wants to work with us to find out how we do things!

Innovative citizen empowerment

We have shown the future with our crowdsourcing and citizenled approaches including Design Together, Live Better.

So what will the next five years hold for AHSNs?

NHS England and their partners are taking 2017/18 to discuss and develop the new licence with AHSNs so the blueprint is not yet finished. However we do know that innovation and supporting STPs to improve processes of care will be the two main themes.

It’s likely that the innovation focus will bear resemblance to the West of England’s current work with the addition of a strong emphasis for all AHSNs on rolling out high impact, well proven innovations, as well as encouraging early stage developments. These may include pharmaceuticals, along with medical technologies and digital innovations.

We continue to shine a spotlight on the importance of change management and quality improvement to embed and sustain innovation effectively.

STPs are becoming the cornerstone of NHS planning and development, so AHSNs will focus on supporting them in delivering improved services and outcomes, twinned with financial efficiencies.

We currently have a director assigned to each of our three STPS and we are increasingly offering events that are designed by and for the STPs, such as our 2016 annual conference and the Digital Art of the Possible event last autumn.

One of our developments for 2017/18 is to resource a full-time project manager for each STP, whose role will also include being a conduit to and from the AHSN on innovation. We are known for our ambitious adoption and spread programmes, such as our partnership with Gloucestershire CCG and now Bristol CCG to optimise stroke prevention in primary care, which has prevented strokes and hospital admissions.

While there isn’t a single magic bullet for STPs, the West of England AHSN can offer improvement and innovation skills, which will make a tangible difference.

Over the last four years we have proven our worth as catalysts, connectors, challengers and champions across the West of England. We look forward to continuing to work for local NHS organisations, with our universities and industry, and to empower our citizens, in order to transform our health service.

Download the full annual report here as a PDF or read it below via Issuu.