Cracking the Innovation Nut

Academic Health Science Networks call for a national debate to address issues preventing innovation diffusion at scale

Diffusion of innovation across the NHS at pace and scale remains a difficult nut to crack, yet one that must be urgently addressed if we are to collectively tackle the big challenges faced by the NHS over the coming years.

This is why today, The AHSN Network that represents all 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), has called for a debate on how the health system, nationally and locally, can work collectively to address the burning issues that currently prevent the NHS from harnessing innovation at pace and scale.

In Cracking the innovation nut – a briefing produced in partnership with the NHS Confederation – the AHSN Network sets out the combined experiences and learnings of the 15 regional AHSNs over the last 18 – 24 months as they have grappled with the challenge of diffusing innovation across the NHS.

As networks responsible for driving diffusion for the benefit of whole populations, AHSNs have identified a number of issues that we collectively need to address if we are to move this important agenda forward and improve the NHS’ arguably poor track record of harnessing innovation at scale.

As the NHS battles hard to fight the increased demand on its resource from a growing population that is living for longer, the AHSN Network suggests that the rigidity of the NHS’s own annual financial planning process is one of the barriers to diffusing innovation.

The Network argues that adoption of multi-year budgets for providers and commissioners, incentivising invest-to-save schemes, could help overcome the hurdle of investing in new ways of working. It also argues that more NHS funding needs to be ring-fenced for preventative or truly transformative innovations.

This is one of a series of recommendations intended to inform a national debate. The AHSN Network also recommends:
• Rewards to be introduced for the systematic uptake of existing best practice

• The introduction of a zero-tolerance policy on the lack of transparent data relating to the uptake of NICE and other clinical standards

• The adoption of a stronger focus on empowering patients to demand best practice.

Dr Adrian Bull, Managing Director of Imperial College Health Partners, one of the 15 AHSNs, said:
“One of the reasons AHSNs were established was to address the longstanding issue of improving the spread and speed of adoption of innovation across the NHS. Since our conception just under two years ago, we have undertaken to understand the challenges and address these with a variety of evidence based solutions.

“We believe our experience to date will now be valuable in shaping this agenda moving forward. We want to maximise the levers that we collectively have, locally and nationally, to overcome barriers to diffusion, and become a service that can embrace innovation for the benefit of its patients and taxpayers.”

Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:

“We welcome the recommendations offered by AHSNs to support widespread diffusion of innovation across the system. For example the NHS Confederation advocates for a substantial transformation fund to support service change and agree that part of this resource should be ring-fenced to support innovation. This investment should be focused on interventions that can demonstrate the most value.”

The issues and recommendations set out in Cracking the innovation nut will be discussed by AHSN and NHS leaders in a breakout session at the NHS Confederation Annual Conference on Friday 5 June.

In addition, the AHSN Network has published a report – Spreading innovation, improving health and promoting economic growth – detailing further examples of the successes AHSNs have made in addressing the diffusion challenge. This report and the briefing can be viewed at