South West AHSN plays a key role in cross-Network spread study

The South West Academic Health Science Network (South West AHSN) has played a lead role in an in-depth study that examines approaches to the spread and adoption of innovation in the health sector.

As well as identifying approaches used across the 15 Academic Health Science Networks in England, the study highlights the complexity of spread work and influential factors and provides recommendations for the future.

South West AHSN carried out the research with Wessex AHSN and the Centre for Healthcare Innovation Research at City, University of London. The work, which took place between January and November 2020, was commissioned and funded by the AHSN Network and the NHS England Innovation, Research and Life Sciences team.

The South West AHSN’s involvement stems from a strong background in the spread of learning and innovation. It is a common thread that runs through virtually all its programmes of delivery and includes specifically focused areas of work like the Spread Academy.

Sarah Robens, the South West AHSN’s Evaluation Lead, led the organisation’s involvement in the study.

“We were keen to get involved because we’d already been working intensely in understanding the best approaches to spread innovation and learning,” she said.

“While we’ve got a strong background in this area we were interested in finding out how our approach fits with those used by other networks, as well as what could be added to the way we work.

“It was an intensive piece of work – which involved collating and analysing the information from over 140 interviews – but it was an extremely positive experience and helped us identify and refine approaches to spread.”

All 15 AHSNs took part in the study, which includes 143 interviews with AHSN staff to identify approaches applied to local, regional and national spread programmes between January 2018 and January 2020.

This research provides the first aggregated view of approaches and challenges to spread and adoption across the AHSN Network. As well as mapping approaches across the AHSN Network, the review included a deep dive into the Transfers of Care Around Medicines (TCAM) national programme.

Professor Gary Ford, Chair of the AHSN Network and Chief Executive of Oxford AHSN said: “This review expands our knowledge base and will increase our capability to spread innovation in the NHS.

“Since our formation in 2013, the AHSNs have amassed significant expertise in the approaches and challenges to adoption and spread of innovation. The findings of this review highlight the considerations AHSNs take to their individual approach to adoption and spread and provides us with an overview, which will enable us to reflect and learn.

“The review highlights a number of factors to consider and different types of approaches, which will be of use to those in local and national systems trying to spread innovation.”

The review made several key findings:

  • There are a range of high-level and project-level approaches to adoption and spread.
  • There was no single methodology or ‘one best way’ to do adoption and spread, reflecting the inherent complexity of adoption and spread work, and diversity of activities within AHSNs.
  • Adopting a flexible approach is paramount due to the dynamic and multifaceted nature of health systems
  • Despite some innovations being intrinsically ‘simple’, the contexts, people, and pathways they touch are usually complex, therefore adoption and spread are complex.
  • AHSNs achieved success using whole-system and relationship/engagement-focused approaches, engaging existing networks and building new networks across sectors and organisations.
  • To spread innovation, it’s important to think of the ‘system’ as a whole and to engage widely. This increases ownership within adoption sites from the start and supports sustainability.

The research highlights the depth of spread and adoption experience and expertise across the AHSN Network. The report concludes with 24 recommendations which the AHSNs and wider health system can learn and benefit from, increasing the capability to successfully spread innovation.

To find out more, read the summary of the report and the full report.

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