Nobel season is over and the trumpeting of Sir John Gurdon’s prize as a triumph for Britain may seem like a fleeting memory. But a new season in health research is upon us: the NHS, universities, industry, local government and charities are joining up across the country to create Academic Health Science Networks [AHSNs]. While this process lacks the glamour and shiny medals of the Nobel Prize, its importance cannot be understated.
These networks have immense potential. 15 new networks are tasked with accelerating the roll-out of new healthcare technologies and ideas to improve patient outcomes, create wealth and support the Nicholson Challenge.
To see where AHSNs fit into the NHS landscape, check out our infographic.
UK pure research at its best
The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for discovering that cell development, from stem cells into specialised tissue cells, was not necessarily a one-way process and could be reversed. Sir John Gurdon and his frog cell experiments are a celebrated part of the UK’s world-leading higher education research enterprise and another excellent example of the UK’s contribution to pushing the frontiers of scientific understanding.
These charts serve as reminder of the indispensable part our universities play in the UK’s healthcare system. UK universities not only supply and develop the healthcare workforce but they are also crucibles for service innovation and excellence. When you factor for country population, as with Olympic medals, the UK punches far above its weight, now averaging over 5 Nobel Laureates for Medicine per 10 million population, almost double the US, Australia, Germany and France. This is truly something to celebrate.
The real research prize: patient outcomes, productivity and prosperity
The UK’s capacity and capability for medical innovation is world leading (only behind the US). But it’s also true that we perform less well at converting these into new services and business opportunities (£). This is the current challenge in England laid down to the NHS, universities and industry under the governments Innovation Health and Wealth agenda.
The AHSNs form part of this initiative.
On 1 October 2012, the AHSNs submitted prospectuses demonstrating their progress to date. Extraordinary efforts are being made up and down the country to establish these important knowledge systems. The prospectuses are now being evaluated and over the next couple of months each AHSN will go through rigorous examination. Designation decisions will emerge in the next few months.
At this crucial time in their development, we ask our members and partners to continue the hard work to establish AHSNs. They have immense potential and every effort must be made to ensure they are the sort of organisations that the NHS and our critically acclaimed researchers deserve.
AHSNs have the potential to deliver the ultimate research prize: longer, healthier, happier and more prosperous lives.