No one would deny that the last couple of years have been immeasurably difficult for those working in the health and care sector. Finding capacity to innovate has been an enormous ask of frontline colleagues tackling the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic. That is why I am both astounded and delighted to see the results of our annual economic growth survey, where we ask commercial innovators to identify any impact, such as the creation and safeguarding of jobs and the leveraging of additional investment based upon the support provided by the AHSN Network.

We have collated robust figures demonstrating real growth and resilience from the companies that we work with, in my mind proving that the work we do really makes a difference. In 2021/22, our results show that £455m investment has been generated and more than 1,800 jobs have been either created or protected. The unique service offering we provide innovators has been delivered within a moderate £13 million AHSN Network annual funding from the Office of Life Sciences, demonstrating a significant return on investment.

Looking at this over the longer term, AHSNs have helped companies to secure £1.3 billion of investment during the last four years, a significant contribution to the UK economy. At least 5,000 jobs have also been created or safeguarded within this timeframe. This is a conservative estimate based upon the survey responses received, our impact is in fact likely to be greater than this.

I am often asked to explain exactly what AHSNs offer for innovators, and I always say that our strength is that we are a unique network of organisations flexible enough to offer a bespoke service that is exactly what each innovator needs, either from the NHS or industry. We are ‘honest brokers’ that give companies an educated, highly experienced view on what to do next to develop their business, and then we signpost innovators to the support they need, as well as providing many services ourselves.

We have recently completed work to define our service offering more clearly so that innovators will know which AHSN offers each service. I hope that this will help the companies we work with know where to direct their interest, but I would emphasise that contacting your local AHSN in the first instance is always the best choice when starting out, so that you can get an experienced evaluation of where you are in your development journey plus advice on exactly what support you need and where from.

Our extensive work with innovators at every stage of development has also enabled us to create a national pipeline of ‘what’s out there’ in relation to clinical themes and support for operational systems. This has proven useful time and again when we are asked for a ‘horizon scan’ by NHS and social care system commissioners to identify promising innovations that could potentially help address pressing needs.

I am looking forward to the NHS Innovation Service being fully publicly available. It has been developed to accelerate the spread of promising and impactful innovations into the NHS. We have been working closely with the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) as a key partner in developing this new online service to help innovators with key information such as understanding the regulations and standards they need to meet; the evidence they should demonstrate; and the NHS procurement and reimbursement processes.

Innovators can receive coordinated and bespoke support from several supporting organisations who have experience, knowledge, and expertise in developing and rolling out healthcare innovations. The service offers a central point of access to these organisations with proven expertise in getting healthcare innovation into the NHS. It also helps innovators receive more joined-up support as the organisations providing guidance can access the innovator’s single innovation record at each stage, which will accelerate the process and avoid duplication.

This collaborative effort from organisations to provide more joined up support will help to make things much more streamlined for innovators.

The best part of my job is hearing directly from the people we support, so that I know we are helping them and in turn improving the healthcare system and patient’s lives.

One recent example is the work with Safe Steps who developed the world’s first coronavirus management app for care homes. Safe Steps had been introduced to care homes by one AHSN initially to co-develop a falls prevention app. When the pandemic hit, priorities changed, and the company was quick to respond. With their existing knowledge of care homes and support from multiple AHSNs, they were able to develop and deploy the coronavirus management app within one month. The company has evolved to now offer a package of apps to help manage deterioration and has reported significant growth in 2021/22, attracting £338,000 investment, making sales of £810,000, safeguarding 26 jobs and creating four new jobs.

“We have had excellent support from multiple AHSNs. One developed a business case for us to go to every care home in Cheshire and Mersey, another put us through a process to prove the value of the innovation, then they helped us with adoption and scaling and pitching to Integrated Care Systems (ICS). I’d go so far as to say my business wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the AHSN Network.” – Lee Omar, Founder of Safe Steps

Now that’s what gets me up in the morning.

To find out more about our economic growth impacts and other national AHSN Network impacts, read our 2021-22 Impact report.

1. Procurement of new services for use in the NHS are subject to NHS procurement processes

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