Innovating for economic growth

Steve West, Chair, West of England AHSN and Vice-Chancellor, University of the West of England and Chair, West of England Local Enterprise Partnership on the challenges and opportunities for health, care and the economy, and how the AHSN can help to meet them.

Who would have imagined six months ago that we would be in the middle of a global pandemic that requires us to reimagine our world, our relationships and our way of living, working and thinking? We are in a crisis and it will be human creativity, innovation and ingenuity that will help us through it.

There has been a lot of debate about the Health and Care Reset and how we can rebuild a system that capitalises on the positive changes we’ve had to make over the last few months, such as the rapid uptake of digital tools and the focus on patient safety. The economy is also in poor shape, and that is already having implications for disadvantaged groups and populations, such as people’s mental health.

It’s clear to me that health and wealth are entwined. There are massive opportunities for us to rethink our health and social care system. We need to embrace technology to enhance and free up what we do best – delivering care, human to human. The NHS and care sectors are also huge employers, with significant influence over the prosperity of their local communities.

AHSNs are of course designed to straddle these interfaces of industry, the NHS, social care and academia. The beauty of our board is its wide representation from chief executives and decision-makers across all these organisations, including the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which shares our values of innovation and economic growth.

In our first five years as an AHSN, we developed a great track record supporting innovations and helping them spread nationally. We now have the headroom and flexibility to step back as an organisation and so when COVID-19 hit, we were able to respond quickly. This has included supporting the development of a Nightingale Hospital in Bristol with training and resources, and reaching out to care homes and other community settings to ensure environments were safe and able to care for patients.

As well as being fleet of foot, AHSNs also have the ability to take a ‘helicopter view’ and look at where we need to get to in three or five years’ time. I think there is a danger that we don’t learn from COVID-19 and miss an opportunity to take a step forward, embracing artificial intelligence and technologies that support self-care and promote prevention.

The challenge is how we can shift the focus from illness and put the ‘health’ back into the National Health Service.

The care sector is one area where we are likely to see growth in employment, as we rethink the sorts of jobs we want people to do. Despite being a major employer, until COVID-19 it had been pretty invisible in most economic discourse. We also need to build resilience in communities and see a big effort to reduce obesity; the system will fall over if we don’t.

Posted on September 10, 2020 by Steve West, Chair, West of England AHSN

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