“The pandemic has shown the NHS can adopt and drive change rapidly”

Professor Gary Ford

“The last three months has seen the NHS respond rapidly to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, changing in ways and at a rate never seen before.”

Professor Gary Ford is Chief Executive of the Oxford Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), which helps generate economic growth through collaboration between the NHS, industry and universities.

Writing in the AHSN’s latest newsletter, Professor Ford pays tribute to the collaborations across the health and social systems.

“Our team at the Oxford AHSN moved to remote working in March before the lockdown. The clinical skills and expertise of some of our staff has been used on the NHS frontline. We have refocused our work using our experience in sourcing innovation, sharing expertise and connections to support our partners across the region in delivering an effective response to the pandemic.

“The research and innovation priorities of workforce, use of digital/AI technology, mental health and multimorbidity that emerged from the NHS needs survey last year have proved to be highly relevant in responding to the pandemic.

“Earlier work we had carried out in digital and diagnostic innovation has enabled rapid regional and national rollout of innovation to support the response to the pandemic. One example is the rollout of Sleepio, a digital therapy programme improving health and wellbeing through better sleep, initially part of the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care System workforce programme, which has now been made available free to all NHS staff in England with thousands already using it.”

However, key opportunities and challenges lie ahead, he said. “Many rapid changes have been implemented in clinical care pathways, the most striking being the move of almost all primary care consultations to remote assessment. However, not all of these will have been beneficial to patient care. It is critical that we learn the impact of these changes on patient outcomes, experience and safety. We are reviewing the patient pathways we are working with and assessing what changes should be amplified, what should end, which old ways of working can we let go of and what do we need to restart.

“In all of this work it is critical we understand the views and experience of patients and carers. Recent changes in services have had to be made without consultation with patients and the public, but we now need to engage with the community to co-design future NHS services at this point of rapid change.

“The UK has for a long time been world-leading in biomedical research, confirmed again with the leading work on vaccine development in Oxford, but world-lagging in adoption of the outputs of research and innovation. The pandemic has shown the NHS can adopt and drive change as rapidly as any other healthcare system. We must retain the changes that made that possible. Clinical teams need to be empowered and unnecessary bureaucratic barriers removed if we are to secure future high quality care for patients.”