BLOG: Reflections on departing as a South West AHSN Chair
Towards the end of 2021 I attended my last meeting of the Board of the South West Academic Health Science Network, alongside my final Annual General Meeting, where I stood down from the Board after six years in my role as Chair.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the South West AHSN and would like to thank past and present executive teams and Board members for all their support and hard work. Having handed over the baton I am taking the opportunity to offer a few reflections from my time as Chair.
The South West AHSN is evolving to meet diverse health and care demands
As the role of the health and care sector becomes more diverse, the need for AHSNs is ever more vital. The South West AHSN has continued its evolution from a very young enterprise to a much more familiar and established organisation, continuing to pay strict attention to the way it is structured and managed. This supports an agile and nimble response to the needs of health and care, from the commissioned body, all the way to our committees which have formed through the South West AHSNs Board governance.
Leadership and staff deliver sustained impact
I’ve seen several senior executives contribute to this journey (Rosie Bennyworth, Louise Witts, Jonathon Gray) and have been pleased to work with them and provide leadership to support their distinct experiences and skills.
Most recently Jon Siddall has become Chief Executive of the South West AHSN, and I am very proud of the work he is doing with the executive team, their commitment to their commissions, and their vision of health equity.
Of course, Jon arrived just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit which was a massive challenge for the health and care sector. It is a measure of the leadership of the current team to have achieved the impact they have at such a difficult time, and it is well worth looking at the South West AHSN 2020/21 Annual Review to glean an idea of what has been accomplished.
I attended most staff meetings and prided myself on keeping in touch with grassroots challenges, even if the reality is that I have only ever been able to meet some of the recent staff on screen. I realise the challenges the pandemic places on the staff, the culture, and the personal relationships with our colleagues internally and externally that make the work what it is. I feel, however, that everyone has risen to those challenges.
Highly proficient Board, executive and non-executive teams
I am excited for the future, with Anna Walker as the new Chair of the South West AHSN Board. Anna has a great set of skills she is bringing to bear in supporting the team, who in turn support the sector. You can learn more about Anna here.
The Board is a coherent and productive group, and it has been great to recently welcome new Board members – Kate Shields and Dr Paul Johnson. Our executive team, who are of course part of the Board, have welcomed these colleagues too and their perspective from across our regional health and care systems. Our impressive set of non-executives have diverse but relevant experience and skills that help to support the greater impact of innovation in our health and care industry.
Supporting health and care in our region
The breadth of perspective in our Board represents what we are now seeing in the sector as a whole, and the health risks that derive from the circumstances in which we live. We are seeking to help people without necessarily medicalising. An impact can be had, not just from treatment, but from addressing matters that are important to a person and which affect their lives. Signing off our health equity focus and five-year strategy was a critical moment at the South West AHSN.
Additionally, integrated care is transforming the way we all work, helping to articulate the roles and purpose of many thousands of practitioners on our patch. The work of AHSNs is going to be vitally important regionally and, as a group, nationally – increasing the magnitude of this impact as the health and care sector shifts.
What the future holds
And me? With three grown children and six grandchildren I should be retired – focused on my bee-keeping, rather than keeping busy. However, the world of innovation in drug development and health keeps me focused. I continue on the Board of a company in the USA, and two founded in Cambridge. I also enjoy assessing applications for Innovate UK awards to small and medium-sized enterprises working in health and life sciences, something I have done for several years.
Alastair Riddell, departed as our chair in 2021, with thanks and gratitude from the South West AHSN team.