Today I have been in Bolton to kick-off the NHS North West R&D Conference. 170 delegates – including patients and the public – getting together over two days to talk research. A great event and I hope they feel I got them off to a good start with my talk.
It occurred to me afterwards that I have yet to be invited to attend an event hosted by one of the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). These are the bodies supposedly set up to bring local and regional partners together to drive innovation in the NHS.
So where are they? No, really, I mean, where are they?
Any time I visit a place I ask what’s happening with their AHSN. Almost without exception it triggers much shrugging of the shoulders and the sort of nervous chatter that only Scoop out of ‘Bob the Builder’ can better. I can certainly tell you from
a public involvement point of view they have barely made a mark.
Are we to presume they are a failure or, at the very least, failing?
Poorly conceived, their role badly defined, working to a short-term agenda and often without focus or leadership. The results seem more variable so far than a bunch of scones made by an early evictee from British Bake-Off.
When I hear what’s happening in local public involvement, I think we can be forgiven for feeling a sense of injustice that such pet initiatives would appear to get an easy ride. If only, if only….
In February last year I wrote that AHSNs might be an opportunity to shift the consensus around the innovation agenda. In fact I thought that was part of their role! But the only shifting I can see is bottoms on seats.
So if they are failing, can we at last have something truly
innovative: an independently governed democratic space in each region where innovations can be co-produced and co-diffused?
15 ‘innovatoriums’ run as social enterprises and in the public interest. Where there is equity of access, equality between the partners and a mutual sharing of the benefits.
Fanciful? Perhaps. But given what’s happening with the AHSN
experiment, what have we got to lose?