Role of AHSNs in healthcare innovation highlighted in NHS Long Term Plan

With its clear emphasis on research and innovation for patient benefit, the NHS Long Term Plan published today (Monday 7 January) is warmly welcomed by the AHSN Network.

Heralded as the blueprint to make the NHS fit for the future, the Long Term Plan highlights investment in latest technology, digital health and cutting edge treatments, coupled with early detection and a renewed focus on prevention to stop an estimated 85,000 premature deaths every year.

It also lays out plans for a more integrated, person-centred service, where health bodies come together across primary, community and mental health to provide better, joined up care in partnership with local government.

The role of England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in spreading proven healthcare innovations is given a renewed vote of confidence in the Long Term Plan.

AHSNs will also link ever more closely with other regional support, such as Rightcare and Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT), to ensure adoption of innovation and service improvement are addressed in tandem.

Simpler innovation system

The Long Term Plan announces the introduction of a simpler, clearer innovation system with key role for AHSNs. This will help to speed up the pipeline for developing innovations in the NHS, so that proven and affordable innovations get to patients faster.

Supported by the AHSN Network’s Innovation Exchange, this will include a new advisory service for healthcare innovators.

This focus on supporting innovators will also continue through successful initiatives such as the Clinical Entrepreneurs programme and the NHS Innovation Accelerator, delivered in partnership with the AHSNs. Through a major expansion, these will include those seeking to drive quality improvement through non-commercial models.

Preventing AF-related strokes

The AHSNs’ ground-breaking work to prevent strokes in people with atrial fibrillation (AF) is given a boost in the Long Term Plan with the announcement of a package of activity to improve anticoagulation rates. Pharmacists and nurses in primary care networks will be supported to case find and treat people with high-risk conditions.

The AHSNs will support this work using the Virtual Clinics model tested by HIN in South London, targeting people with AF on GP registers who are not receiving anticoagulation therapy. It is estimated that over 1,200 strokes have been avoided since the start of the AHSN Network’s national programme of work in 2017, thanks to increased detection and treatment of AF.

AHSN Chair Seamus ONeill

Chair of the AHSN Network, Dr Séamus O’Neill said:

“The AHSNs are extremely pleased to see that innovation is a key thread running through the NHS Long Term Plan, and are encouraged to see a real sense of urgency in simplifying the innovation pipeline, with the AHSN Network at the heart of this.

“Our shared ambition with the NHS is to ensure high quality, evidence-based solutions are put to work for patient benefit as quickly as possible enabling prevention of ill-health, earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, better outcomes and faster recovery.

“We are also pleased to see recognition in the Long Term Plan for the contribution research and innovation make to the UK economy, along with a commitment to back the government’s recently announced Life Sciences sector deal, in which the AHSN Network is a key player.

“In the last year, we have engaged collectively with 1,173 companies, leading to 86 long term strategic partnerships for those companies with the NHS. We will continue to broker these interactions as they are essential for both the development of new treatments and pathways and to maintaining a healthy life sciences sector.

“The Long Term Plan places a strong emphasis on real world testing for new innovations, which the AHSNs have long encouraged. We look forward to supporting the NHS infrastructure for real world testing, particularly through the expansion of the NHS England ‘Test Beds’ into regional Test Bed Clusters.”

Next steps

Following today’s publication of the NHS Long Term Plan, Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) and Integrated Care Systems (ICSs), which are groups of local NHS organisations working together with each other, local councils and other partners, now need to develop and implement their own strategies for the next five years.

AHSNs are embedded in these regional health and care community and will play a key role to support partners in developing these regional strategies, particular in supporting the spread and adoption of proven innovation for patient benefit.

For examples of the range of benefits accruing to companies by working with the AHSNs to access the expertise and opportunities within the NHS, take a look at this recent publication on our work to support economic growth.

And for examples of proven innovations supported and spread by AHSNs, please visit


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