Establishing an ICS role to develop a culture of innovation within the local health and care system

A case study showing how establishing a Head of Innovation role in the East of England supported a culture of innovation and catalysed additional investment and innovation activities. 

Themes: Leadership, Culture

Case study summary

Eastern Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) and Suffolk and North East Essex (SNEE) ICS have co-funded a Head of Innovation role to develop a culture of innovation across the health and care system. 

What was the problem or opportunity?

The Head of Innovation role is intended to facilitate the adoption of proven innovations that align to health and care priorities across Suffolk and North East Essex. The primary aim is to create a culture where clinicians and staff from all system partners understand how doing things differently can solve their challenges and empower them to be involved in work to adopt and spread innovations.  

How did this support innovation adoption and spread?

In Summer 2020 Eastern AHSN fully funded a system-level Head of Innovation to work within the ICS. The objectives for the role were to: 

  • develop an innovation strategy for the ICS
  • generate a better understanding of the positive impact proven innovation (including digital technologies, innovative care pathways and new medicines) can bring to both patients and clinicians within the ICS
  • support the adoption and spread of evidence-based, innovative solutions that align to local health and care priorities and unmet need
  • understand and work to remove barriers to the uptake of innovation locally
  • create a culture of innovation where health and care staff are empowered to innovate; and
  • build relationships with key stakeholders to facilitate the “pull” of innovation into the system as it aligns to local priorities.

Several key criteria were agreed to ensure the post holder was able to achieve maximum impact in the role, these included: 

  • experience working at a senior leadership level within the ICS
  • established relationships with directors, clinicians and staff within the ICS; and 
  • knowledge of and access to the AHSN’s specialist team and the pipeline of innovations relevant to local health and care priorities.

How were patients and the public involved? 

The SNEE Patient and Public Involvement team support this initiative and have ensured that patient voice is integral to the design and development of the role. More broadly, patient co-production has been important when identifying, developing and testing a range of innovations to support the delivery of key strategic priorities for SNEE ICS (including developing virtual pathways for the detection of atrial fibrillation, and prioritisation of innovations for earlier diagnosis of cancer following horizon scanning). 

What were the results?

This initiative represents a new way of working for the ICS and the knowledge, trust and relationships created by the post holder’s work has given the ICS the confidence to make additional in-year investments of around £0.5m into evidence-based innovative technologies which would not otherwise have occurred. This includes clinical decision support tools in cancer; the introduction of AI supported technology for dermatology; digital education systems for both patients and clinicians; devices to support asthma diagnosis and apps to deliver improved education for children with asthma. These innovations have all been sourced in response to specific ICS challenges and have been selected based on evidence curated by the AHSN. They are initially being implemented on a small scale to enable evaluation before potentially being scaled more widely. 

The unique position held by the post holder (working with both the ICS and their AHSN) has also facilitated the communication of local health challenges to innovators who may be able to help solve these challenges. Local innovation exchanges have also supported communication between innovators and key stakeholders in the local system. 

The post holder has also been able to leverage industry support through the AHSN to explore the development of new care pathways, with the AHSN supporting the real-world evaluation of these transformative products. This supports the ICS’s ‘higher ambitions’ and strategic priorities and has been part-funded by an industry partner. The ICS has also been an early implementer of a digital test for acute kidney disease and more recently Eastern AHSN has identified some early opportunities to support the ICS’s net zero strategy. 

What were the learning points?

This work has highlighted the complexity involved in selecting and implementing innovative technologies in health and care settings; the importance of taking a change management approach in this context; and the importance of building strong relationships and trust when encouraging people to work in a different way.  

The post holder’s local connections and established relationships were essential to this role and facilitated work (involving engagement with GP’s, hospital clinicians and managers) to conduct a baseline assessment of the ICS’s readiness to adopt innovations and identify which clinical areas required most change.  

The post holder’s dual reporting lines (a senior member of the ICS management team with a dotted line to Eastern AHSNs commercial team) were also important and ensured the post holder had access to the live database and pipeline of innovations relevant to local health and care needs. In this case, earlier diagnosis of cancer, CVD, multimorbidity and more recently long COVID-19.   

Given the significant work required to optimise the impact of this role within the ICS, a minimum of three years is likely needed to allow time to develop relationships, identify the priorities/problems, implement the products/solutions to help solve these problems and run an evaluation to measure benefit/impact.  

Next steps and sustainability 

The current SNEE Head of Innovation is contracted until March 2023, pending the legal authorisation of the ICB. However, the intention is that the role will continue open ended, with the ICS ultimately intending to fund 100% of the costs. The priority for SNEE ICS is to create a culture of innovation readiness and collaboration across the system. They plan to build upon the success of the initiative and continue to work collaboratively with system partners to ensure innovation is aligned to strategic priorities as a key integrated component of future health and care services. 

Eastern AHSN are currently recruiting to the same role in another ICS in the region, and are discussing a similar role with yet another where it will form part of an exciting new strategy to tackle local health inequalities through research and innovation, and encourage industry investment in the area.  

Find out more 

You can read more about the role in Eastern AHSN’s impact review for 2021-22 

Contact details – CEO of Eastern AHSN