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Fifteen New Academic Health Science Centres Announced

NHS England has announced that it has licensed 15 new Academic Health Science Networks to promote innovation in healthcare and drive economic growth.

This is great news, which will see the networks act as a platform on which the NHS, academia and industry can collaborate to identify innovations and rapidly develop promising solutions to healthcare problems.

We know that managing the healthcare of individuals and of populations is a complicated business and that healthcare systems themselves are complex structures of many different skills, people and opinions.

However we also know with a fair degree of certainty that healthcare demand is going to outstrip our ability to pay in the not too distant future. I’ve seen cost estimates of between 18%-75% of GDP for global healthcare costs by 2050. I don’t know what the final number will be over the next 20-30 years, nobody really does and to some extent it doesn’t really matter as no country can afford anything within that range. So many things will have to change and the AHSN’s are a great example and a great opportunity to try to simultaneously improve outcomes, reduce costs and encourage economic growth.

Can this be achieved? I think it can with leadership, time and belief in the power of collaboration. Personally I don’t think there are any easy answers as to how you match healthcare demand with limited supply and I think a culture that positions healthcare providers as the ‘customer fulfilment business’ is setting up those same providers for missed expectations at best and failure at worst, and that’s not really fair. Healthcare will always be political. The responsibility to deal with ever-growing demand should have a broader church to rely on. In particular, that means greater participation from individuals (you and I); after all it is our health, so we ought to be more involved and share responsibility for what that means.

In my company we believe that informatics, data and analytics can help, can help a lot and can help everyone. Data can help healthcare professionals, can help service designers and can help patients. I came back from Kuwait yesterday, where we’re working with the Dasman Diabetes Institute and the Ministry of Health to improve the management of Type 2 Diabetes in Kuwait, a chronic condition that threatens to overwhelm public health in the next 20 years. Patients participate in the management of their own care through getting on the same page in terms of data as their healthcare provider. This collaboration builds on 20 years of Scottish experience through SCI-DC (or the Scottish Care Information – Diabetes Collaboration) where every one of the 250,000 diabetic patients in Scotland has their care co-ordinated rather than fragmented. Why is this a good thing? Clinical outcomes have delivered a 40% reduction in amputations and a 40% reduction in blindness. Our Kuwait Health Network collaboration would like to deliver the same results in Kuwait in five years, rather than 20 years.

What’s involved in making this happen? A lot of people from different organisations, from the public sector and the private sector, from medicine to education to lifestyle coaching to kids in schools. Its people with a mix of backgrounds, cultural and professional, who are willing to try new ideas, experiment, communicate and collaborate. Some of this will work, some of this won’t work, and that’s fine, we just accept that and try our best, because if we don’t the consequences are very bad.

On the plane coming back to the UK I read a very interesting article from Muhammad Yunus, the founder of the Grameen Bank, whose innovation in micro-credit facilities throughout the world is outstanding for its contribution to encouraging entrepreneurship and reducing poverty. His Grameen Kalyan clinics in Bangladesh are adopting a similarly innovative approach to provision of healthcare and Muhammad Yunus now believes that elements of his approach could be used in the West:

Sometimes the problem isn’t the condition, it’s us. Sometimes we just need to lift our heads and do the right thing with a fresh perspective. I think the AHSN’s have an opportunity to do this and we should all try to help to make that work.

Our experience of working with healthcare providers including the NHS tells us that no single company, person or organisation has the capability to make the sweeping changes to healthcare that are needed to radically improve patient care and take advantage of the explosion of new knowledge that emerges on a weekly basis. However, by working together organisations such as the NHS, universities, and technology companies like Aridhia can collectively innovate ways in which to translate research into clinical practice to ensure that it is effective.

To make sure this happens, it is important that AHSNs have the ability to connect industry, the NHS and academia, and build a shared understanding of healthcare’s particular needs. This means that the healthcare organisations themselves identify their own priorities which can be responded to through the alignment of the three sectors to improve education, clinical research, informatics, innovation, training and education and healthcare delivery.

The UK’s changing demographic landscape and aging population requires an across-the-board revision of how healthcare is practiced and delivered. These AHSNs are therefore a vital tool in harnessing open-minded conversations and opportunities aligned to the co-creation of ideas designed to produce profound change. Best of luck.