George Anibaba, Senior Programme Manager, Kent Surrey Sussex Academic Health Science Network (KSS AHSN), has been working with colleagues at Oxford and Wessex AHSNs on three programmes aimed at improving the well-being of the NHS workforce and ways of working.

Here he describes the need for the programmes, what’s been delivered and the benefits for staff across the South East region…

Since its inception, our NHS has been based on a set of core values, which show its people-centredness, whether it’s a person on the receiving end of care or a person/people directly or indirectly contributing to the delivery of care. Two of those resonant values are the ‘Commitment to Quality of Care’ and ‘Improving Lives’ (NHS constitution values) which speak for themselves.

In a sea of interventions and approaches that seek to improve and transform lives, ‘innovation’ as a term is increasingly being used in service and quality improvement conversations with the perception of innovation ranging from ‘life jacket’ to ‘superfluous voyage accessory’ (at least anecdotally… #allviewsmyown). However, from personal experience, what innovation actually means and more importantly the value it adds, is often either not understood, misunderstood or sometimes understated.

At the same time, a history of unsuccessful transformation through innovation, coupled with an all too often overworked and overwhelmed workforce that continues to face increasing demands that exceed its capacity, don’t do much to help change such perceptions about the value of innovation.

COVID and the new reality

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only taken its toll on health and social care services and the people using them, it has also greatly impacted on the people (staff) delivering, or supporting the delivery, of health and care across the country. The reality is, the NHS is often relying on an exhausted workforce to recover from the response and continue delivering high quality health care. The workforce needs adequate support and help to achieve this; in response, a number of policy drivers, namely the NHS People Plan, along with ‘Our People Promise’, recognise this ‘new reality’ and have framed their actions around the importance of ‘looking after our people’ and ‘new ways of working and delivering care’ as well as other equally important pillars and principles.

Furthermore, the recent NHS 2022-23 priorities and operational planning guidance paper makes a compelling call to ‘invest in our workforce’, The Future of NHS Human Resources and Organisational Development report recommends a number of areas for initial focus for Integrated Care Systems and individual organisations, including: ‘leading improvement, change and innovation’. Evidently, ‘more of the same’ is no longer viable.

Innovation can drive efficiencies and improvements in ways of working that result in many benefits for the workforce, including upskilling and ‘time back to care’. Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) are licensed and expected to facilitate change and enable better outcomes through innovation: a) as part of the NHS response to “special cause” events like the COVID-19 pandemic and b) more familiar issues (“common cause”) such as service inefficiencies and unmet health and wellbeing needs.

The AHSN Network workforce programme

In early 2021, NHS England commissioned the AHSN Network to design and initiate delivery of a workforce programme with a focus on workforce productivity, in a project centred on one or both of the following: pathway redesign and/or innovation including digital or Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The workforce programme aims to “work collaboratively to address the national workforce challenge by delivering evidence-based innovations that realise transformational benefits for the health and care workforce, both now and for the future”.

In the South East region of England, the three AHSNs (KSS, Oxford and Wessex) have been working together on supporting the following three programmes:

  • Sleepio, an online, six-week self-help Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programme for insomnia. It delivers the ingredients of CBT via a fully automated, interactive web-based tool and is supported by 12 Randomised Control Trial evidence.
  • S12 Solutions, a mobile application and website created to make Mental Health Act assessment setup and claim form processes quicker, simpler, and more secure.
  • eRD (electronic Repeat Dispensing), which enables GPs to authorise up to a year’s worth of repeat medication for patients whose medicines are relatively stable.

A regional story through impact analysis

To take stock of the impact of these interventions on the workforce, three separate high-level impact analyses were conducted with the aim of assessing the potential in-year net benefits of these three interventions across Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS), Oxford and Wessex for the period between April 2020 and April 2021.

The reports and their accompanying infographics, produced by our analytics and evaluation partner Unity Insights, demonstrate some modelled (i.e. monetised) benefits and some unmodelled benefits where there either wasn’t enough data or the benefits were more qualitative in nature.

Whilst these reports are a significant milestone in the life of the AHSN workforce programme, they serve as a springboard to show us the art of the possible in demonstrating the value innovation can add to: recipients of care, health and care systems and the people involved in delivering care aka our workforce!

Read the reports here:

Sleepio reports

S12 Solutions reports

eRD (electronic Repeat Dispensing) reports


For more information about the workforce programme contact