AHSNs, CLAHRCs need to do a ‘Keanu’ and rearrange matter(s) in the public interest

So there I was, reclining on my sofa, recovering from the worst chest infection known to mankind. (Note deliberate reference to the male species there.) And I had decided to use my temporary ill-health to fill some gaps in my movie knowledge.

Watching the MATRIX and MATRIX Reloaded it occurred to me that, faced with such monumental organisational changes in the NHS, wouldn’t it be great to be able to put them into slow motion. Or, better still, catch the new and reformed bodies between our fingertips and re-engineer them particle by particle. In one or two cases we might even want to carry out a bit of casual vaporisation. Keanu Reeves eat your heart out.

Just to recap. Alongside the tendering exercise for the second round of Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) [closes in May], we are also seeing the restructuring of the current clinical research networks into 15 integrated research networks. Both of these will match areas covered by the new Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). All this will happen like a well choreographed piece of organisational ballet or amazing planetary alignment to keep the sci fi analogy going.

AHSNs will bring together universities, industry, the NHS and other partners to improve innovation and the diffusion of new ideas in our health system. That’s the theory anyway.

From nothing, AHSNs now loom large in the same way that a flotilla of invisible alien spacecraft used to appear on Lt Uhura’s radar screen in Star Trek all those years ago. Dark, out of range of our phasers, and who knows what they will eventually look like when they do appear. It’s enough to make you want to warp factor out of here.

The key question is whether AHSNs will really be about radically shifting the way we innovate. Or simply a new plundering ground for those who inhabit our ivory towers. How they view you and I, the citizen, in all this, will be the most telling aspect in my opinion.

Prior to Christmas I was fortunate to accompany some colleagues from AHSNs on a study trip to the Southern Region of Denmark to see how they approach innovation. Three things struck me as we visited the innovatorium, university, hospital and town hall of Odense.

First, how they have begun to shift people’s thinking in terms of what partnership and collaboration should look like to improve innovation. Not least, and very simply, that everyone should work together in a communal space both physically and metaphorically. Second, that they have bitten the bullet and decided not to go at a long list of priorities but to focus on 2 or 3 with a key one being what we would call tele-health. Third, that the role of citizen as co-producer is central to their endeavour from giving it political legitimacy and deciding on the investment, right down to design and execution.

Reading a recent feature on Scandinavia in The Economist I was struck by its comment that the Danes are driven by pragmatism rather than ideology. Form follows function. It’s about getting the job done whether in terms of introducing a new treatment or launching Angry Birds. By the way is there a version of this yet called; Angry Patients?

Given that we tend to behave according to the ‘letter of the law’ in the UK it is unfortunate that the tender document for AHSNs did public involvement such a disservice in the first instance. Only now are we beginning to recoup the ground that was lost in those early months. Yet I am now quietly confident that we will be able to network and support the public involvement work of AHSNs when they come into being from April. And, of course, there will be considerable expertise and knowledge in our CLAHRCs that they can and should tap into.

So those thinking through their CLAHRC bid right now should be under no illusion; the standard and quality of public involvement in their overall design as well as their more detailed plans for the future will be integral to their application’s success. It will also have important knock-on effects for the organisations they work with.

But once the new world has taken shape we will still need leaders including patients to be brave about innovation and disrupt the consensus. To do a Keanu and rearrange matter(s) that will deliver innovation which matters to patients and the public.

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