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Research and rescue

Research and rescue

23 February 2015

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Fifteen Academic health science networks (AHSN) were set up by NHS England in 2013. Their purpose is to develop the potential in their local areas to transform health and healthcare by putting innovation at the heart of the NHS. This will improve patient outcomes as well as contributing to economic growth. AHSNs present a unique opportunity to pull together the adoption and spread of innovation with clinical research and trials, informatics, education, and healthcare delivery. They will develop solutions to healthcare problems and get existing solutions spread more quickly by building strong relationships with their regional scientific and academic communities and industry.

The North West Coast (NWC) AHSN encompasses a population of 4.1 million people across Lancashire, South Cumbria, Merseyside and Cheshire. It brings together other large networks and partnerships, all NHS organisations and universities, industry, local councils, patients’ organisations, medical charities and other stakeholders to develop an integrated and co-ordinated approach. Its key aims are to drive and enable access to safe, evidence-informed healthcare for the entire NWC population, to drive the development and delivery of advanced treatments, technologies and professional practice across the NWC to enhance the equality and efficacy of service provision, and to attract global investment into the area. NHS commissioners are key partners in this process and we are also working with local area teams as well as frontline staff.

A key element to our work is to support organisations and individuals to generate and deliver their good ideas for the benefit of patients and to spread these across our area and beyond. Having contacts with all NHS organisations located within the NWC AHSN footprint is of immense importance as it grants us access to a wide variety of organisations, information, advice and resources which leads to assurance for the project teams that we can provide the best environment in order to prove the viability and worth of new technologies.

The AHSN provides management support and oversight for rapid dissemination of innovation products and practices to other NHS organisations in the region who can then implement them. We use a networked approach and robust evidence to solve problems and enhance an innovative culture. Our projects enable us to identify possible areas of synergy between projects and organisations that may be of mutual benefit. We act as a conduit for information and have the capability of driving forward innovation. Key elements of our approach include systems integration between established networks and partnerships, establishing infrastructure for impact and sustainability, and supporting new innovation campuses and business initiatives. We have also identified a number of key campaigns to provide a focus for our initial activities. Our health improvement priorities lie within cancer, cardiac stroke, mental health, long term conditions, and children and maternal health. We provide system-wide support for innovation within digital health, personalised care and treatment, infection and tropical medicine, neurological health and procurement.

As part of our early activity we supported the National Research and Innovation Fund with assessing projects in our local area. This process enabled us to identify a number of projects which we felt would be beneficial to our patients, families and carers, which we shall be supporting in 2014, for example:

1 The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals, Liverpool Heart and Chest, Lancashire Care and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals in partnership with Finnamore will develop a comprehensive NHS innovation framework for the North West Coast. The project will identify opportunities for a harmonised framework which can then be rolled out more widely, including in primary care. The project will ensure engagement and benefit for health professionals and patients across the NWC footprint.

2 Hydrate for Health and the Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Trust will roll-out the “The Hydrant”, which is a refillable water bottle designed by Hydrate for Health to assist anyone who runs the risk of dehydration through a shortage of regular access to drinks caused by a lack of mobility. The project aims to reach up to 10,000 patients at risk of dehydration, thereby enhancing patient experience, improving efficiency in primary care and providing cost savings through reduced admissions and infections.

3 Health and technology company, uMotif Digital Health Ltd, in partnership with Liverpool Heart and Chest NHS Foundation Trust (LHC) and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTHT), will tailor and develop a mobile and web software application to help patients improve post-operative adherence to treatments, reduce readmissions and empower patients on their care pathways. Chronic Heart Failure patients and the oncology care pathway and follow-up will be supported in the first instance. The project will examine how patient self-management apps can reduce rates of post-operative 30-day readmission, improve treatment outcomes, increase patient engagement and education and encourage clinician acceptance and uptake.

4 Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with BT Global Health will roll-out a series of hubs to partner trusts, which will allow tertiary paediatric neurological expertise to be deployed remotely both to clinicians and patients and families. This will allow shared-care to be better deployed in a timely way across the region and also reduce the need for families with sick children to drive large distances for brief check-up appointments. Mobile video enabled tele-carts will be at major spoke trusts in the North-West. Tele-carts will allow sharing of PC desktop views and review and a walk-through of images on PACs and e-documentation. Key outputs will be: better patient care, increased access to specialist advice and the ability to improve patient outcomes. Knock-on benefits are anticipated in terms of reduced demand for beds and unscheduled transfers. It will also improve out-patient capacity for children who need a face-to-face consultation.

5 Medipex, ePAQ and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, are currently seeking suitable partners in the North West Coast to develop this initiative. On-line preoperative screening will reduce the burden on patients and providers by utilising technology and evidence-based algorithms for pre-operative investigation and peri-operative care. Patients can use touch screens in clinics or their own home internet-connected devices to use the ePAQ-designed programme to assess which pre- operative investigations will or will not be required. Benefits of this system include:

  • Reducing attendance at outpatient clinics.

  • Focussing resources on sicker patients.

  • Reducing delays, costs and cancellations.

  • Enhancing the ‘patient experience’, quality of care, and efficiency.

Research has estimated potential savings for trusts of £600,000 annually, based on 40,000 anaesthetics per year. 

6 Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital and Healthimo are looking at reducing risks of complications for patients with diabetes undergoing surgery by better managing blood glucose. For LHC, this has translated into nearly 3,000 excess bed days over the last five years. With a blood glucose meter coupled to a modem, pre-operative patients can remotely send daily blood glucose readings directly to a consultant, which reduces the need for clinic appointments. Any errant readings can be quickly addressed by the clinical team, thus reducing cancellations and improving the clinical outcomes for patients. A robust evaluation will accompany all our projects, which will support the roll-out of innovations such as these across the North West Coast and beyond. We are working in a way, which allows us to develop projects, which adopt a “whole systems” approach, with clinical commissioning groups, primary, secondary care and others. For more information on these projects visit

Jeni Quirke is communications manager at North West Coast AHSN.

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