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AHSNs relicensed as key innovation arm of the NHS

NHS England has committed to the long-term future of England’s Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), as part of a ten-year vision to drive health innovation and stimulate economic growth.

At its Board meeting on 24 May NHS England formally approved a new five year licence for the 15 AHSNs, with an option to roll this on for a further five years to 2028.

A video recording of the Board meeting can be viewed via this link (AHSNs item starts at 01.11.50) and the relevant Board report can be found here.

AHSNs impact graphicSet up in 2013 with a five-year licence to encourage health innovation and stimulate economic growth, the AHSNs have spread over 330 innovations across 11,000 locations, benefiting 22 million patients, creating 500 jobs and generating £330m investment for the country.

Ian Dodge, NHS England’s National Director for Strategy and Innovation, said: “I don’t think there’s a more important question the NHS faces than how can we get better at curating and spreading innovation? And who will serve as the NHS distribution network for innovation? The answer is the AHSNs as they enter their next phase and increasingly work together as a single national network of networks, helping to destroy NHS ‘not invented here’ syndrome.”

AHSNs have a unique place in England’s health system, building collaboration across all sectors including the NHS, social care, public health, universities, NIHR research bodies, charities and industry (from small medical technology enterprises to pharmaceutical companies). AHSNs also support economic growth by helping industry to better meet identified NHS needs.

Professor Mike Hannay, Chair of the AHSN Network, said: “The impacts from our first licence highlight the fantastic potential of the AHSNs and this announcement represents a step change in the country’s approach to health innovation and transformation.

“Each AHSN works in its area to support local innovation and transformation, and comes together as a connected national network – this creates a unique formula to improve clinical outcomes, deliver better patient experiences, drive down the cost of care and stimulate economic growth.”

In their new NHS England licences AHSNs will work in their regions with Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships to address local needs, and will coordinate nationally to deliver big programmes focusing on major NHS challenges including:

  • Preventing strokes and saving lives through better detection of atrial fibrillation – more here
  • Improving patient safety and making better use of medicines to save NHS money and reduce the risk of patient harm – more here
  • Using digital technology to save NHS resources and help patients manage their care – more here
  • Preventing cerebral palsy in pre-term babies through administration of magnesium sulphate – more here
  • Helping frontline NHS staff to take their great ideas and spread them.

AHSNs receive the majority of their funding from:

  • NHS England, which funds the AHSNs’ core innovation work
  • The Government’s Office for Life Sciences to bring together partners across sectors to identify, test and roll out innovative solutions to health challenges
  • NHS Improvement, which commissions the AHSNs to deliver England’s 15 Patient Safety Collaboratives

The commitment to the long-term future of a national network of AHSNs is underpinned by a range of recent reports by the NHS, Government and independent ‘think tanks’ highlighting their critical role:

  • ‘Powerful Patients, Paperless Systems’ launched by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, which references AHSNs’ roles in nurturing NHS innovation
  • The House of Lords select committee report ‘Who’s driving the Bus?’ references AHSNs ability to support the NHS to innovate
  • The King’s Fund report ‘Adoption of Innovation’ features case studies from across AHSNs highlighting barriers and enablers to spreading innovation
  • The Nuffield Trust’s report ‘Falling Short: Why the NHS struggles to make the most of new innovations’ features the AHSNs – view it here
  • The Health Foundation report ‘Against the Odds: Successfully Scaling Innovation in the NHS’ references AHSNs – view it here
  • Promise of HealthTech is a report by PUBLIC authored by former Health Innovation Minister and former Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood focusing on opportunities and barriers for innovators.