Natasha Swinscoe: Connecting the dots between research and innovation

In the latest 'Bristol Health Partners and us' blog post, the Chief Executive of the West of England AHSN and Bristol Health Partners Board member discusses the relationship between our organisations.

  • 4th April 2023

The mission of the West of England Academic Health Science Network (or AHSN for short) is to drive the uptake of proven innovation across health and care, and so not surprisingly we have much in common with Bristol Health Partners Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) – not least our acronyms!

Both our organisations are focused on improving health and care and we are fortunate in being able to work so closely together to drive research and innovation forward, helping to connect the dots between the two.

While the work of Bristol Health Partners AHSC is to identify evidence gaps that can be bridged by new research through its Health Integration Teams (HITs), the work of the West of England AHSN could be seen as the other side of that same coin. Our role is to take proven evidence and encourage its adoption and spread across the wider health and care system, so that it can benefit as many people as possible.

We find this is a vital relationship in helping us to create a vibrant research and innovation pipeline for our local health and care ecosystem.

Bristol Health Partners AHSC’s membership and footprint covers Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG). The AHSN on the other hand also includes Gloucestershire and Bath & North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire (BSW). With the recent formation of our Integrated Care Boards, this provides us with the perfect platform to play a very practical role in sharing the learning of Bristol Health Partners and its HITs with our neighbouring systems and being a catalyst for wider connections.

Over the years, we’ve found the HITs have been invaluable in helping to shape innovations and acting as a critical friend to innovators we’re supporting.

As part of the national AHSN Network (the collective of all 15 AHSNs across England), we’ve been supporting the spread of the First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED) model, working with mental health teams locally to accelerate diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders for young people.

Members of the Eating Disorders HIT have been crucial in helping us to implement FREED in Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership and Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG).

The Stroke HIT has also become an important sounding board for much of our work at the AHSN around blood pressure optimisation and lipids management.

We’ve been delighted to see a graduate from our Health Innovation Programme, Caz Icke, a specialist neuro-physiotherapist who has launched SoleSense, receiving assistance from Stroke HIT members to further refine her product and secure funding to support its development and testing in NHS services.

And through our connections with the wider AHSN Network, we’re looking forward to helping the Stroke HIT share learning from the reconfiguration of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire’s stroke services with colleagues in other regions.

Last year, we were excited to support the work of the Bladder and Bowel Confidence (BABCON) HIT through a joint project to bring about positive change for those affected by bladder and bowel conditions.

As part of our Create Open Health open innovation programme, we produced the Voices for Change report, exploring many of the challenges faced by those living with bladder and bowel conditions, or caring for someone who does, drawing out problem statements that led to the identification of a number of key themes.

Our report identifies six action points for healthcare providers, commissioners, researchers, innovators and local government to consider – suggesting improvements to existing information, services and pathways and guiding thinking around developing or identifying innovative healthcare solutions.

Furthermore, our industry team has also been delighted to provide ongoing support for the development of the BABCON HIT’s CONfidence app, a self-help and signposting resource for those experiencing bladder and bowel issues. We are so pleased to see this going from strength to strength.

In a similar way, our industry team has been supporting the Active Lives HIT in their work with ‘Robotics for Good’ at Bristol Robotics Lab to develop an app to support physical activity, and I can’t wait to see how this progresses.

With a joint end goal of improving health and care, both the AHSN and the AHSC are ultimately all about making connections, bringing the right people together to research the problems and innovate the solutions we then support for local adoption. We look forward to working together to continue connecting the dots for many years to come.