In this blog, Stuart Monk AHSN Network National Programme Director for Rapid Uptake Products and the MedTech Funding Mandate reflects on why achieving the greatest spread of health and care innovation is personally important to him and discusses some of the progress and impacts he’s seen over the last year.

I’ve worked within the AHSN Network for almost seven years and during that time I’ve been involved in most aspects of the AHSN Network’s portfolio, from supporting small businesses and social enterprises trying to sell their products and services to the NHS, to spreading innovative practice in healthcare delivery.

The adoption and spread of innovation in the health and care system has become a real area of interest for me; you might say passion too. Why? My interest in the spread of healthcare innovation begins with a personal story. Four years ago in April 2018 we lost my father, Tony, to cancer and while the care he received was ok, it could have been better. The thought that other people in England that were suffering a similar fate to my dad were receiving better care than he received inspired me to become more heavily involved in helping patients access improved care and proven healthcare innovation.

In July 2021, becoming a national programme director to support delivery of two of the AHSN Network’s national innovation programmes was a brilliant opportunity to help deliver the positive changes we all want to see across the NHS. The strength of the AHSN Network is the blend of local and national – we’re a ‘critical friend’ to our local Integrated Care System (ICS) colleagues whilst being a critical mass nationally, with the capability of fostering and sharing good practice quickly.

My passion is working to change the way services are delivered, through innovative technologies, medicines, and new ways of working – ensuring that best practice approaches from one part of the country are replicated in others.

Human behaviours are at the cusp of what AHSNs strive to understand to support spread of innovative practice. I enjoy learning from Prof Trish Greenhalgh at the University of Oxford and have had the joy of learning the principles and techniques harnessed by the Billions Institute in their Model for Unleashing large scale social change. By bringing together programme management, change management, quality improvement and behavioural science – a fusion of all different change methods – the AHSN Network can help to facilitate improvement in NHS patient care.

Progress and impacts in 2021-22

Across the AHSN Network we are seeing a change to the way we work; the ability to use video meetings has galvanised us, creating a sense of team across all AHSNs on national programmes, whilst allowing for more rapid sharing and learning. On the innovation-based programmes, we are accelerating access for patients through clinical pathway transformation and improvement.

For example, within the Rapid Update Products (RUPs) programme we have been developing two pathways for patients with asthma – FeNO testing to reduce the number of patients who need hospital care by delivering innovation into general practice, and biologic medicines for those needing treatment for severe asthma.

In the last year our primary care colleagues have been able to acquire almost 1,000 FeNO devices and we estimate over 100,000 additional patients have made use of them. That’s a significant reduction in patients who otherwise could have needed appointments in hospitals at a time when we know the pressure on the system and the workforce is huge. What’s more, enabling primary care access to this kind of equipment means staff are also able to improve their skills.

Meanwhile biologics medicines for patients with very severe asthma are becoming more widely available via pathways we have helped to develop and implement. During 2021-22, there have been 2,000 new patient initiations of life-changing drugs which can change lives, with the rate of access set to increase following the pathway changes we are supporting across England.

We’re making a difference too within the MedTech Funding Mandate policy, accelerating patient access to NICE-approved innovative medical devices, diagnostics, and digital products.

For example, placental growth factor based-testing (blood tests for ruling out pre-eclampsia in pregnant women) has gained widespread adoption, with over 80% coverage in eligible hospitals across England.

Similarly, gammaCore, a handheld device used to treat severe cluster headaches, has been adopted by over 70% of eligible organisations, committing to funding it themselves following AHSN support.

Our work continues in 2022/23, and four technologies have been added to the Policy to enable greater patient choice and experience in the appropriate treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. We are excited to be working with the Get It Right First Time (GIRFT) national team of clinical experts who are supporting efforts to get elective services up and running following the coronavirus pandemic and these technologies can play a role in helping to increase patient throughput at a time when the NHS really needs it.

The power of the AHSN Network can’t be underestimated. Before, during and following the pandemic, we have created many learning collaboratives, networks, and communities regionally and nationally, offering support, feedback and learning on the spread of proven innovation.

Almost seven years on, did I make the right move? I certainly did and I hope my dad would agree.

Learn more about the AHSN Network’s impacts in our impact report.

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