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Insight: Network worth

Insight: Network worth
3 June 2014

Academic health science networks aim to bridge the gap between academia and the NHS, and are involved in a variety of projects across the country. 

Academic health science networks aim to bridge the gap between academia and the NHS, and are involved in a variety of projects across the country. 

AHSNs have the potential to be generational leaders of fundamental change in the NHS. They are pioneering a new, innovative model designed to help close the gap between best practice and current practice, working across a range of sectors to co-develop solutions to joint challenges. Although the networks are licensed and funded by NHS England for five years, they have been established as autonomous bio-enterprises. The relationship between NHS England and AHSNs is one of investor return, rather than traditional service provision and programme management. AHSNs put the NHS at the forefront of collaborative working for system-wide improvement in health outcomes. 

Each of the 15 AHSNs has a five-year licence to deliver against four broad objectives:

 – Focus on the needs of patients and local populations
Support and work in partnership with commissioners and public health bodies to identify and address unmet health needs, while promoting health equality and best practice.
 – Build a culture of partnership and collaboration
Promote inclusivity, partnership and collaboration to consider and address local, regional and national priorities.
 – Speed up adoption of innovation into practice
To improve clinical outcomes and patient experience – support the identification and more rapid spread of research and innovation at pace and scale to improve patient care and local population health.
 – Create wealth
Through co-development, testing, evaluation and early adoption and spread of new products and services.
However, these objectives are tailored by the AHSNs to meet local needs. Below are some case studies highlighting AHSN projects from across the country to date.
West of England AHSN
Connecting data for patient and population benefit
West of England AHSN is facilitating providers of NHS care and local authorities to join together data at individual patient level to improve care and patient safety. Patients move frequently between primary care, hospitals, community health services and social care from physical or mental health services. They are cared for by multidisciplinary teams drawing on expertise from across the health and social care system. Few patients only need care from one part of the system, yet most information systems are specific to one organisation or even one service within an organisation. This means that patient information is disconnected or unconnected to their care pathway. 
The AHSN has developed an Informatics Strategy which captures ambitions for supporting interoperability of data at patient, pathway and population level. The ambition is to support care providers across the West of England to connect and use individual patient data to improve care. The benefits, which are expected to flow from Connecting Care, will be qualitative and quantitative, and include improving quality of care, increasing patient safety and improve healthcare system and workforce efficiency. A baseline exercise estimates the new system will lead to a reduction of 2,500 occasions each year where staff believe that lack of visibility of patient care and details could have been a risk. For further information visit
Developing a partnership approach to integrated education in child and adolescent health 
UCLPartners AHSN is piloting an educational intervention to improve integrated care, to give children and young people better advice and care in the community and to improve outcomes.
Through ‘Learning Together’, GP trainees and senior paediatric registrars are paired together to see children and young people in joint clinics at a local practice, where they share knowledge and expertise. The project aims to enable paediatricians to get a taste of seeing children outside of hospital and more about the context of caring for the family. For GPs and nurses in the practice team it provides experiential learning in their local context. After each clinic learning continues across professional boundaries, as patients are discussed, followed-up and unnecessary referrals avoided. For further information visit 
Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP)
Crowdsourcing innovative ideas to help improve patient care
Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), the AHSN for North West London, worked with three of its member trusts – the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, West London Mental Health NHS Trust and West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust – to pilot a new innovative engagement method: crowdsourcing.  
More than 11,000 NHS staff were invited to join a pioneering online community where a three-week online workshop ran to gather their views and ideas, all without time consuming meetings. A simple, secure website enabled staff to share their ideas, comment on the ideas of others and vote the best to the top, collectively identifying and prioritising the ideas they felt as a crowd were best. People were able to do this at any time of the day, from any device that had an internet connection, making it truly inclusive and accessible for a large group of people.
One simple question was posed to the crowd: “What would you stop, start or do differently to improve care for your patients?”
Nearly 5,000 contributions were made during the three week online workshop covering a range of ideas from further support needed for IT infrastructures to introducing transferable training for clinicians. Imperial College Health Partners is now reviewing the most popular ideas as voted by the crowd with a view to working with partners to take these forward where appropriate. 
For further information visit or contact [email protected]
Yorkshire and Humber AHSN
New evidence-based tools to reduce ‘patient harm’ events such as falls and pressure ulcers
The Yorkshire & Humber AHSN has established an Improvement Academy and integrated intelligence and information Resource to support NHS organisations in their continuous journey to improve patient safety and reduce avoidable hospital deaths. Its Improvement Academy is supporting NHS hospital trusts with evidence-based tools to accurately record reasons behind avoidable hospital deaths in a systematic and timely manner. As a result, inpatient falls have dropped significantly at four acute wards at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust following the introduction of a practical and sustainable falls intervention programme. The AHSN is now developing a set of tools to equip groups of clinicians with the skills and knowledge to reduce patient falls, blood clots and ensure the safe transfer of medicines.
For further information visit
East Midlands AHSN
Putting the ‘SPARK’ into research 
The East Midlands AHSN is funding a major initiative to help East Midlands health organisations synthesise research from multiple sources – providing the evidence on which to build rapid service improvements.  The project, coordinated by Nottingham University Business School’s Centre for Health Innovation, Leadership and Learning (CHILL), invites requests from member organisations in the East Midlands for evidence-based reviews. It then pulls together the research from a range of sources for the commissioning organisation, providing an easily digestible summary of evidence report.
The reports are called ‘Sparks’ – which stands for Spreading Applied Research and Knowledge –  and the initiative has already been directed to support local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. This recent piece of work – which provided the CCGs with the evidence base to develop a commissioning for quality and innovation (CQUIN) measurement for care transitions for older people – was turned around in just seven weeks.
Dr Cheryl Crocker, Director of Quality and Patient Safety and Executive Nurse for The Nottingham North and East, Nottingham West and Rushcliffe CCGs said: “Improving quality of care must be rooted in evidence and this initiative was instrumental in providing an evidence base for the development of a CQUIN around the transfer of care. We know this is a vulnerable time for patients and the support we received has helped the CCGs drive up the quality of care.”
For more information contact [email protected].
SBRI Healthcare 
Promoting innovation and economic growth in the UK
The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) for healthcare is an AHSN-championed initiative which provides investment in business ideas for new technologies for known healthcare need.  
Led by the Eastern Academic Health Science Network (EAHSN) the SBRI Healthcare programme sets industry challenges through a series of related competitions which result in fully fundedw development contracts between the awarded company and the NHS. A light therapy eye mask that stops the deterioration of diabetic retinopathy; a nitric oxide releasing wound dressing and a home testing kit to help cystic fibrosis patients test for incoming exacerbations have all been backed by SBRI Healthcare and now are in the final stages of clinical testing.
To date over 66 companies have received over £12million of funding which has seen products developed and companies grow and bring value to the UK economy. For more information visit
South West AHSN
Innovating for health and wealth through integrated care
Integrated care has become the bedrock of the South West AHSN’s strategy. Our region has secured a pre-eminent position in the national integrated care landscape, with two DH-identified ‘pioneer’ status regions (Torbay and South Devon and Cornwall) and two further areas in advanced stages of integrated care delivery (the Symphony Project across the area covered by Somerset CCG and Enhanced Community Services across the area covered by Northern, Eastern and Western (NEW) Devon CCG). The development of integrated care models focusses on getting the right balance between acute hospital care and better community-based services.
It is essential that this process continues but does so on the basis of a clear understanding of the advantages of the service options and full evaluation of the health outcomes and cost benefits. The strategy now agreed with the CCGs in our footprint is to use and develop the methodology pioneered in the Symphony Project in South Somerset and to expand this across the region, while taking advantage of local innovations and spreading their application. For further information contact [email protected] or visit
Natalie Hudson is communication and engagement manager at Imperial College Health Partners and co-wrote this summary with all of the AHSNs mentioned above.

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