Case Studies

Eastern AHSN and Suffolk and North East Essex ICS on developing a culture of innovation

NHS England has shared a case study describing how Eastern Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) and Suffolk and North East Essex (SNEE) ICS have come together to fund a Head of Innovation role, as part of a shared vision to cultivate a culture of innovation across the health and care system.

The Head of Innovation role has emerged as part of a wider strategy to implement proven innovations across Suffolk and North East Essex ICS. The central aim is to create a culture where staff and clinicians understand how doing things differently can solve their challenges and give them the confidence to adopt and spread innovations.


With Eastern AHSN providing funding for the role, the objectives included:

  • Create an innovation strategy for the ICS
  • Develop a strong understanding of the positive impacts of proven innovation (including digital technologies, innovative care pathways and new medicines) to both patients and clinicians within the ICS
  • Encourage and support the adoption and spread of evidence-based, innovative solutions that align with local health and care priorities
  • Examine and work to deconstruct barriers to local innovation
  • Cultivate a culture of innovation where health and care staff are empowered to innovate
  • Build relationships with key stakeholders to facilitate the “pull” of innovation into the system as it aligns to local priorities.

Alongside the main objectives, there was a range of agreed key criteria:

  • Experience working at a senior leadership level within the ICS
  • Forming strong working relationships with directors, clinicians and staff within the ICS.
  • Building knowledge (and access) of the AHSN’s specialist team and the stream of innovations relevant to local health and care priorities.

Patient and public involvement

Supporting the new initiative, the SNEE Patient and Public Involvement team placed patients’ voices at the centre of the development journey for the role, using patient co-production to identify, develop and test a variety of innovations to support the SNEE ICS strategic priorities. These priorities include developing virtual pathways for atrial fibrillation and innovations for early identifying cancer following horizon scanning.


The case study notes that the ICS’s focus on innovation represents a new way of working, which has facilitated greater knowledge, trust and relationships across local organisations. This has resulted in an additional in-year investment of around £0.5 million into evidence-based innovative technologies. Some of the technologies already in operation are:

  • Clinical decision support tools in cancer
  • AI supported technology for dermatology
  • Digital Education Systems for patients and clinicians
  • Devices supporting asthma diagnosis and apps to improve the education of children with asthma
  • Liberate Pro – a digital platform designed to help patients manage their conditions whilst reducing the need for appointments
  • Supporting 3D modelling of arteries with HeartFlow – a new technology which creates a 3D model of a patient’s coronary arteries and assesses for the presence and location of blockages

These innovations have been introduced in response to specific ICS challenges and have been chosen based on curated evidence by the AHSN. They will initially be implemented on a small scale to enable evaluation before potentially being scaled more widely.

Learning point

The ICS’s journey so far has highlighted the complexity involved in selecting and implementing innovative technologies, and the importance of applying a change management approach in a health and care setting. Building strong relationships and trust is equally vital, the case study states, when it comes to encouraging both patients and staff to embrace a different way of working.

A main learning point revolved around the post holder’s established relationships and connections with local organisations, which facilitated a baseline assessment of the ICS’s readiness to adopt innovations.

The role’s dual responsibility to report to a senior member of the ICS management team and the Eastern AHSNs commercial team proved important in terms of ensuring access to the live database of innovations relevant to local health and care needs.

The case study notes that a minimum of three years of work is likely required to maximise the impact of this role within the ICS, which will give the Head of Innovation time to identify priority areas, implement products and solutions, and evaluate their efficacy.