Discover, develop, deploy: creating an innovation pipeline for the West of England

As we celebrate the 75th birthday of the NHS this year, our Chief Executive Natasha Swinscoe and Chair Steve West reflect on another milestone we are also marking here at the West of England AHSN.

We’ve come a long way together since we were first established in 2013 as you can see from our illustrated timeline.

It is ten years since England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) were first licensed by NHS England and we are immensely proud of all we have achieved in bringing innovation into the NHS at pace and scale over the last decade to benefit thousands of patients.

For the last decade, our vision has remained constant – to create a dynamic ecosystem for innovation in the West of England, founded on a collective approach to benefiting our local people.

In our new impact review we share case studies, exploring how we collaborate with colleagues from health and care, industry, research and academia, the voluntary and community sector, and with patients and the public, to drive innovation and new approaches at every stage of the pipeline.


At the ‘Discover’ stage of our innovation pipeline, we support colleagues to be curious, ask questions and share their experiences to help us all better understand what we want innovation to achieve. We have nurtured active collaboratives and networks, bringing together all those who really understand health and care challenges to articulate the needs.

We help our local health and care community to foster an innovation culture, ready to embrace and develop new technologies and ways of working.

And of course we also work closely with healthcare innovators at this stage, acting as a critical friend through our business development support to equip them with the skills and insights to enter health and care as a market place. Our online Innovation Exchange is designed to help innovators understand health and care challenges and connect innovators to the support they need.


Next comes the ‘Develop’ phase – a time for experimenting, refining and testing innovations. In the last year, we’ve been incredibly busy identifying promising solutions, through our own Health Innovation Programme, as well as the national SBRI Healthcare and NHS Innovation Accelerator initiatives.

We’ve also supported many system partners to evaluate innovations in real world settings, from our Black Maternity Matters pilot (trying out new approaches to reducing health inequalities faced by Black mothers) to the Domiciliary Care Workforce Programme (testing the potential of AI to transform planning for providers of domiciliary social and health care).


Finally comes the all-important ‘Deploy’ stage where we’ve achieved significant success in exporting innovations developed here in the West further afield, such as PReCePT and the PERIPrem care bundle for premature babies (which is now being implemented in Wales), as well as ‘importing’ solutions from other parts of the country and through national programmes.

There can never be single blueprint for deployment, and from our case studies you’ll see how we work closely with healthcare providers to help them adapt their care pathways and practices to adopt innovative solutions, often using quality improvement (QI) methodologies.

We hope you agree we have much to celebrate in our tenth year. These achievements are credit not only to the AHSN staff team, but also to all those across the West of England health and care innovation community who have seized the opportunity to work with us to achieve our shared ambitions. And so to all of you, we say a heartfelt thank you.

We remain committed to championing and scaling the best healthcare innovations and will continue to support the NHS with its most pressing issues, including helping to deliver a Net Zero NHS by 2040, addressing health inequalities and improving patient safety. NHS England recently announced the AHSNs (under the new name of Health Innovation Networks) will be relicensed for a further five years, and so we look forward to continuing this work, and continuing to learn and grow together, in the coming years.

Posted on July 3, 2023 by Natasha Swinscoe, Chief Executive of the West of England AHSN and Steve West, Chair of the West of England AHSN and Vice-Chancellor of UWE

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