After an AHSN Network led roundtable discussion to listen to the experiences and challenges faced by industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, The AHSN Network is planning a series of “Bridging the gap” events this autumn aimed at providing support, information and advice for innovators across industry.

The roundtable titled ‘Lessons learned and lived experiences of industry during the pandemic – how these can help us reset health and care together’, was primarily an opportunity to hear from industry and for the group to discuss views and experiences that would be beneficial to take forward, to learn from and inform the NHS Reset process following the impact of the pandemic.

The discussions highlighted many ways that industry and the NHS achieved some remarkable transformations in the way care and services are delivered for patients in recent months. Industry colleagues shared examples of the challenges and opportunities COVID-19 presented to health companies and NHS colleagues shared impressive insights into the ‘staggering’ rate of uptake and advancements, particularly in the use of digital technologies, emphasising the need to maintain this momentum and appreciation of the benefits these innovations can bring.

Watch the opening plenary from the event on YouTube here. This short film opened discussions with views and perspectives from several participants in the round table, outlining ways in which industry and healthcare have worked together during the pandemic, as well as highlighting some important areas of focus as we move forward.

Participants also recognised some very real challenges that need to be urgently addressed. These included interruptions to non-COVID-19 services that understandably went on hold during the pandemic, and getting these restarted safely, efficiently and managing the consequences of delayed care. As the NHS goes into “phase 3” of its COVID-19 response, including accelerating the return of non-COVID-19 related services and planning for winter, the involvement of industry will be more important than ever to help deliver improved patient care and outcomes.

Organisations involved in this virtual roundtable included the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association (BIVDA), the Digital Health and Care Alliance (DHACA), the Association of British Health Industries (ABHI), Health Foundation, Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), NHSX, the Office for Life Sciences (OLS), Spirit Health Group and the NHS Confederation.

Julia Dudley, OLS was keen to join the discussions and hear first-hand from participants about what they felt had enabled many of the successes and indeed some of the challenges as the system begins to restart and simultaneously prepare for winter.

Colette Goldrick, ABPI, and Matt Whitty, AAC, both highlighted the need to expediently evaluate what has worked well to ensure the system is retaining and embedding the right processes and that this is done in a safe and sustainable way to maximise the outcomes for patients.

Matt Whitty recognised three major positives that have emerged from the pandemic, including the pace of delivering research and trials, the adoption of innovation at scale and partnership working – not just across the NHS and with industry, but collaboration between different companies.

Doris-Ann Williams, BIVDA, stressed the need to recognise the ‘critical window’ between now and the ramping up of winter pressures to fully engage with industry at this pivotal time, and an importance that the system must be open to discussion around coordinating offers of help from industry. Andrew Davies, ABHI suggested that industry are now being listened to more, but there is still a way to go and we need to keep talking.

Colette Goldrick, ABPI, also emphasised that industry is eager to work alongside NHS partners on Reset, and has developed detailed proposals across priority disease areas and would welcome a central framework to ensure collaboration has the widest possible impact.

Chris Barker, Spirit Health Group, and Tara Donnelly, NHSX, highlighted the value a shared focus had given in terms of the pace and scale this gave to the adoption of products and services, particularly around remote monitoring. Spirit Health for instance, were able to deliver in weeks, what had previously been anticipated over a number of years with thousands of respiratory patients being monitored remotely. Tara shared insights into embedding ‘virtual wards’ with patients discharged early with pulse oximeters and an app for remote monitoring, that had been fully evaluated by Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) AHSN, being a huge hit with patients and clinicians alike. And Charles Lowe, DHACA, illustrated the importance of helping the public understand the scale of what digital technology can do with some impressive statistics.

In essence, the key themes of discussion around actions that need to involve industry insights to support Reset included effectively embedding new care/service models that have developed during the pandemic; getting rapid evaluation and reimbursement models working more effectively, building on the lessons learned in recent months, and managing the consequences of the dramatic decrease in non-COVID-19 care and considering digital interventions that can help manage patient care and outcomes.

Nicole McGlennon, Managing Director of East Midlands AHSN who chaired the event on behalf of the AHSN Network said: “It really was a great opportunity to bring together people with different perspectives to reflect on how important it is that the voice of industry is at the heart of discussions around the reset of our healthcare system. I look forward to continuing this work and enabling innovators to do their part to inform the NHS reset to lock in some of the positive gains that have been made.”

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation said: “The NHS has been through the most traumatic period in its history – we have seen some of the most awful consequences of this terrible pandemic and some of the most fantastic responses from both health and care staff. We have seen innovation and its implementation at an unimaginable speed and scale that’s never been seen before, and we now urgently need to review what has happened and make sure we capture the positive transformations that have been made possible by working with industry. We are keen for these relationships to continue and for us all to work hard to maintain this momentum.”

This event forms part of The AHSN Network’s work on Supporting the Health and Care Reset, ensuring that we work across both NHS and industry to sustain and maximise on potential advances and transformative ways of working.