Strengthening local partnerships and driving innovative solutions using innovation hubs

A case study demonstrating the benefits of establishing Innovation Hubs in Yorkshire & Humber. Benefits include improving stakeholder engagement through more effective interfaces between ICSs and AHSNs and being more focussed and responsive to local needs and priorities.

Themes: Organisational Structures, Partnership Working

Case study summary

In partnership with South Yorkshire (SY) and West Yorkshire (WY) Health and Care Partnership ICSs, Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) has established two Innovation Hubs within the Yorkshire and Humber region. These Hubs strengthen links between the ICSs and AHSN, allowing them to collectively develop a deep understanding of local needs and priorities which could be addressed through innovation. Through working together and best utilising the organisation’s respective roles and expertise it permits greater co-production of solutions and faster adoption of innovation. Yorkshire & Humber AHSN believes that this exemplary way of working could also be of value to other ICSs seeking to embed innovative tools and techniques across their system. 

What was the problem or opportunity?

Within local health and care systems there are many opportunities to address unmet needs through adoption of innovation to improve outcomes and introduce efficiencies, spanning both clinical and operational domains. 

The challenge for ICSs is bringing all these opportunities together at a system level and understanding how they can best use their economies of scale to identify and invest in the innovations which will have the greatest impact across whole ICS geographies. 

Nationally, the role of the fifteen AHSNs is to nurture and accelerate spread and adoption of proven innovation into England’s health economy. The Yorkshire & Humber AHSN has, like other AHSNs, invested significant time in building strong relationships with key stakeholders and individual organisations across the Yorkshire & Humber health economy to understand the needs of the system and support effective adoption and spread of innovation.   

With the introduction of ICSs, the SY ICS and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN extended their existing relationships and began working in a systematic way at ICS level, enabling joint identification of the most pressing issues facing the region at a population level and working collaboratively to address them through the adoption of innovation. This came about because of the SY ICS and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN’s mutual desire to find a local solution to addressing unmet needs, involving industry in potential solutions, accelerating spread and adoption of evidenced innovations, and bringing together research and NHS delivery. 

This way of systematic and collaborative working to adopt innovation was formalised as the SY Innovation Hub. This model has been further developed by SY ICS and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN from then on and has now also been spread into WY ICS, leading to formation of a WY Innovation and Improvement Hub. 

How did this support innovation adoption and spread?

The Innovation Hub model seeks to better structure and formalise the interface between ICSs and Yorkshire & Humber AHSN, forging a closer relationship between ICS priorities and the AHSN’s role in driving spread and adoption of innovation. Underpinning this is an ambition to ensure systems and the AHSN can best utilise their collective unique skills and role for the benefit of the region. 

The Hubs sit at the interface of health, life sciences and local economic growth and embed AHSN staff in ICS conversations around unmet needs and priorities. This joined-up working is focussed upon two core aims. Firstly, to create simple and efficient processes which enable busy staff on the ground to bring challenges and opportunities for innovation to the attention of the ICS, enabling ICS leadership to identify and prioritise those needs which would benefit from a systemwide innovative solution. Secondly, to effectively identify, validate, and support implementation of market ready innovations capable of addressing ICS-level needs and priorities, whilst also driving improved health outcomes, clinical processes and patient experience across ICS geographies.

Many of the innovation projects the Hubs work with are non-tech solutions. For example, the SY Hub has worked with regional primary care providers and local football teams to implement a 12-week health coaching programme designed to engage with fans who may be at risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Innovation doesn’t simply exist in isolation, so the Innovation Hubs also play an important role in the system around creating the conditions for effective innovation: 

  • Promoting a culture of continuous improvement: Without a culture of innovation and improvement across the system, it can be extremely challenging to spread innovation, and solutions can often fail to meet their true potential. Therefore, the Hubs play an important role in growing capability and capacity for change, promoting techniques for identifying improvement opportunities, as well as raising the awareness of innovative solutions. This allows the workforce to adopt a more proactive and continuous approach to innovation and improvement, as well as enabling workforce development needs to be identified.
  • Providing a single point of contact: The Hubs provide a single point of contact for all ICS innovation enquiries and requests for guidance, whilst also leading the liaison between key regional and national stakeholders (eg AHSNs, National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Networks, NIHR MedTech and In Vitro Diagnostic Cooperatives, NHSE, UK Research and Innovation). This facilitates more effective relationships between ICS stakeholders and organisations who can support efforts to address unmet needs.
  • Signposting: The Hubs connect organisations both within the system (eg NHS stakeholders) and those external to the system (eg industry partners) allowing effective partnerships to be readily convened whilst also acting as a catalyst to leverage investment into the region. 

As part of this broader role, the SY Innovation Hub has developed a series of learning networks across SY. Through these networks, the Innovation Hub team has been reaching out to key leads from provider organisations who are involved in innovation, improvement or research and inviting them to become innovation ambassadors. These ambassadors become a series of ‘eyes and ears on the ground’, supporting the Hub to capture unmet needs from colleagues and subsequently support effective adoption of innovation. 

What were the results? 

The SY Innovation Hub has been running since 2019 and, while still maturing, has resulted in a significant impact for the region including the:   

  • Delivery of four successful exemplar projects in three areas which were a priority for the ICS: population health, urgent and emergency care and workforce. The exemplar projects sought to help promote the benefits of innovation and learning, whilst seeking to adopt a healthy appetite for innovation risk.
  • Development of a consortium of stakeholders and supported funding applications resulting in approximately £240,000 in additional research & innovation funding.
  • Delivery of an innovation hub web portal, an innovation podcast, a network of Innovation Ambassadors, and a series of innovation related forums (ICS Innovation Labs), with the overall purpose of nurturing a culture of innovation.
  • Support of over £4.6 million of additional investment, including NHSE joined up care funding and NIHR Artificial Intelligence for Long Term conditions funding​.

An informal review of the SY Innovation Hub took place in 2021 ahead of proposals for setting up the WY Innovation and Improvement Hub. The WY hub was established in 2022, building upon learnings from the SY hub but adapting the model to meet the specific needs of the WY ICS. Therefore, the WY hub is at a very early stage of maturity. However, its impact is expected to follow a similar trajectory to that of the SY hub. Formal reviews of the hubs are envisaged for 22/23. 

What were the learning points? 

There have been many lessons to reflect on over the course of that journey, key learnings include: 

  • Establishing a closer working relationship between ICSs and the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN allowed the respective organisation’s unique roles and expertise to be best utilised for the benefits of the system.
  • Utilising the broader role of the Hub to create a culture for innovation that significantly improves the pace and depth of innovation adoption across an ICS geography.
  • Providing a single point of contact for innovation enquiries that not only improves the process of highlighting innovation opportunities to ICSs but also allowing ICSs to allocate funding and capacity to the innovation opportunities which will have the greatest impact across the system.
  • Allowing innovation, improvement and research functions at a provider, ICS and partner level, to be better joined up: also ensuring learning is shared across organisations.
  • As the Hub staff are directly employed by the AHSN they retain a ‘neutral broker’ status, allowing effective formation of collaborations which enables successful funding bids as well as valuable cross sector partnerships.
  • The Hub staff and close links between the ICS and AHSN means the ICS can easily ‘draw down’ expertise from a much wider pool of skills and expertise within Y&H AHSN and the wider AHSN Network.

Next steps and sustainability 

The Yorkshire & Humber AHSN now has an Innovation Hub in partnership with SY ICS and an Innovation and improvement Hub in partnership with WY ICS, funded through partnership funds contributed by regional NHS organisations. They are in conversation with the remaining ICS in their region about establishing a similar model and continue to evolve the role of the two existing Hubs in response to changing system needs. 

This model where ICSs coordinate their innovation activities and foster closer relationships with their local AHSN is an exemplar in creating effective structures which allow ICSs to address local needs and challenges and meet NHSE priorities through accelerating the adoption of innovation. 

Other ICS and AHSN partnerships across the country are now also considering similar models to bring together system leaders to facilitate innovation for the benefit of the system.   

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