An Open Letter to the 15 Chairs of the AHSNs

Dear Colleagues,

I understand that you have just received your letters from the Department of Health confirming your designation as an Academic Health Science Network (AHSNs) subject, no doubt, to a few refinements. Congratulations.

Me and my colleagues from across the world of public involvement are looking forward to working with you to get innovations out to patients and the public more quickly and efficiently.

In making this happen, we hope that the AHSNs – independently and collectively – will embrace public involvement as a core principle for the way they operate and from the beginning – as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has done so successfully since 2004/5.

From a strategic point of view – and based on our experience – public involvement is an essential partner in delivering:

– accountability to your community and air cover for what you do
– value in ensuring that the work you undertake fits with the needs of your population
-efficiency, not least in making you more effective in engaging the public and getting them to take part in what you are doing
– innovations that actually work for patients and carers in hospital and at home not just in the lab

In the current climate and amid the concern to ensure a more accountable health system it would seem logical to embrace a partner – the citizen – who can help make this happen. If I am honest many patients and public I talk to think that AHSN will be another of those great British academic carve-ups. Indeed, often it is the institutionalisation of innovation and not our NHS that holds up progress of patient benefit. So it would be great to prove us wrong.

The wonderful thing – and you will appreciate this given that innovation is often about smart adaption of what exists to fit a new context – is that you have a wealth of public involvement experience to lean on. Not just in NIHR but in our clinical research networks, CLAHRCs and many patient groups as well. We don’t just know how to do this stuff, we actually know how to do it very effectively and this is why it is getting increasing attention from abroad. We know that we can make a real difference in the AHSNs as well.

For the last few weeks up until yesterday, I and many others have been working on the ‘Ok to ask’ campaign for International Clinical Trials Day (ICTD). Over 200 hospitals took part with many inspiring and exciting examples of people coming forward to take part in research but also being innovators in their own right. From children to old people, the desire is there to help they just need to be asked. So I know you will want to be at the forefront of what we do next year.

Finally, a small but important point. Few people will know of your existence in your area. The very term AHSN does not lend itself to dialogue except perhaps between its collaborators. Perhaps Networks can begin to demonstrate their ability to think out of the box by calling themselves something that is not an acronym,that will resonate with people.

I can’t wait to get started with you.

Best wishes,


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