The innovation landscape

25 March 2021

As highlighted in the NHS Long Term Plan, adopting new technologies is seen as a key tool to help the NHS meet the competing challenges of workforce shortage and an ageing demographic.

And then came COVID-19, placing the importance of innovative practices firmly at the front of the health system’s response to the pandemic. Virtual consultations are now an essential and widespread element of health care, and the COVID Oximetry at Home programme has helped thousands of patients at risk of covid to safely monitor their symptoms at home – to name but two examples.

While vaccines offer hope that, in time, we’ll be able to live with less restrictions alongside COVID-19, its impact on the health system has exacerbated the existing challenges faced by health and social care, creating new consequences as a result of patients not accessing services, or services not being available.

Meeting new challenges

Technology has a key role to play in meeting those challenges, and the UK is well placed to do so with a vibrant health tech sector, an appetite for change within the NHS, and a strong structure in place to support future development – an approach recognised in the 2017 Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which set out an ambitious plan to make UK life sciences as innovative and globally competitive as possible.

Since the strategy was published by the Office for Life Sciences (OLS), great strides have been made to improve patient access to innovative treatments and technologies, with the COVID-19 pandemic further raising the profile of life sciences around the world, demonstrating what can be achieved when Government, the health system, academia and the life sciences industry work together.

A collaborative approach

The OLS is one of the commissioners of the AHSNs, and is the government sponsor for the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC).

The AAC aims to drive deeper collaboration between patient groups, NHS, government, regulators and industry to get the best new innovations to NHS patients faster than ever.

And as outlined in its recent Year in Focus publication, working with the AHSNs and other AAC partners, it has attracted more than £450million of investment and created or safeguarded over 1,500 jobs, helping to make the UK one of the most pro-innovation healthcare systems in the world.

Matt Whitty, Chief Executive, AAC, said that the AHSN Network continues to be instrumental in supporting industry to maximise the chances of take-up by the NHS.

“I’m excited by achievements so far but even more excited about how much more we can achieve,” he said.

“The launch of the MedTech Funding Mandate, accelerating patient access to clinically proven NICE-approved medical devices, diagnostics and digital products and the funding, testing and evaluation of the most promising Artificial Intelligence technologies supported by the AI in Health and Care Award point to the power of collaboration and what we can achieve together.

“There is still more to be done. We want to address and remove barriers that hinder getting the best new innovations to patients, do more to support NHS research and to make it easier for all innovators to navigate the health innovation system and, later this year, we will launch our Innovation Service to help support that ambition.”

A real world solution

Nev Young, Commercial Director at Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, said that by working with AAC and OLS, the AHSN Network is well placed to support new innovations.

“I have nothing but praise for the work of the AAC, which is tackling a really difficult problem and has built strong relationships with the OLS and industry,” he said.

“The AHSNs have an important role to play in that ecosystem, and we’re very pleased to be part of the delivery elements of some of the AAC work – particularly the MedTech Funding Mandate, which is a fantastically innovative approach to driving good quality technology into the NHS.”

One of the key services on offer through the AHSN Network’s Bridging the Gap service is Real World Evaluation (RWE), which explores the clinical, technical, practical and financial factors of a solution.

Nev explained that supporting innovators and the NHS to design small-scale roll outs that will provide the evidence needed for a solution to be adopted at pace and at a large scale is a key AHSN skill-set.

“Through RWE we’re able to help industry partners to present their evidence in a way that makes sense to the NHS, and we’re also able to help the NHS to be really clear about the problem they’re asking industry to solve,” he said.

“Although RWE can be the key that unlocks many doors, innovators face an ever-changing landscape, as priorities change, services adapt to meet patient needs and regulation is updated.

“As we move forward and healthcare evolves there will always be a new challenge. Bridging the Gap is a great forum for bringing people together to try and hammer out solutions, as well as identifying the future challenges.”

Bridging the Gap – helping patients benefit
from better services and products

Through its BTG function the AHSN Network accelerates the development and uptake of innovation into the NHS by:

• Supporting innovators to determine whether the innovation matches a need and how wide spread that need might be
• Where further product development is necessary, signpostong innovators to appropriate resources along the development pathway including finance
• Supporting innovators to understand the real world impact of their innovation for the NHS
• Assessing and advising on scale up plans when innovations have achieved initial uptake.

Find out more about Bridging the Gap

More from this issue of Innovate

AHSN support in action

Using evidence to unlock innovation