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I was privileged to attend the recent South West AHSN (SWAHSN) annual conference in Exeter. The conference brought together members of the healthcare community in the South West. The packed programme for the day included inspirational plenary speakers, interactive workshops and an innovation marketplace.  The focus of the day was to share best practice, learn about innovations and importantly mingle and build relationships with colleagues.

The plenary sessions were lively and engaging. New SWAHSN Chief Executive Jonathan Gray opened the day, introducing himself and sharing his experiences setting up Ko Awatea, an institution for health system innovation and improvement in New Zealand. He then went on to share how hope is not a plan and that collaboration is key. He drew the analogy between improvement and the Loch Ness monster, with occasional sightings but lacking in evidence.  Our improvement work needs to be thought out, planned and evidence based.

Jonathan was followed by Digital Health Futurist, Maneesh Juneja, who shared his insights on the potential of technology in healthcare. His lively presentation included demonstrations of the potential for Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home in healthcare, a demonstration of a driverless car (filmed the day before) that could allow the elderly and disabled to get mobile, and a virtual GP consultation. The audience even got a real feel for the future by holding a chip that could be swallowed to monitor medication adherence. Maneesh’s message: don’t forget what matters to patients, and operate from a place of courage when exploring new technology.

Dr Robert Varnam, Director of General Practice Development, NHS England then talked candidly about the stark challenges facing primary care. He noted that general practice in the South West is known for its focus on the community, preventative care, wellbeing and its collaborative working. He shared the view that all parts of the system bring a piece of the jigsaw, but our success is driven by our collaboration. Robert asked the audience – whatever their role – to give some time and focus to help relieve the pressure on primary care to help ensure its survival.

The final plenary speaker was Hazel Stuteley OBE, Director of the Connecting Communities programme who shared the highs and lows of her experiences of community health creation from the front line. She called on improvers to share the ‘how’ of improvement – the important details of worked, what didn’t and what they tried.  She reminded the group that you cannot impose an improvement and think it is going to make a difference. Hazel closed her speech with an unforgettable reading of an emotional family poem that touched the hearts of everyone present.

The day was also an opportunity to share and celebrate innovations and best practice ‘home grown’ in the South West. 

I couldn’t possibly do justice to the variety or breadth of the 20+ workshops which ranged from ‘Psychological safety and joy in the workplace’ (a memorable session which featured postcards and homemade cake), ‘Delivering population level intelligence and analytical capability’ (getting active with local population data to identify improvement interventions using shapes, colours, letters and maps and discussing the fantastic work in Exeter on social prescribing), and ‘A problem shared is a Hackathon’ (using the problem solving technique inspired by the tech sector).

The day was also an opportunity to share and celebrate innovations and best practice ‘home grown’ in the South West. The Bering/Axbridge Partnership is one such example and was the subject of one workshop.  This is a partnership between a Somerset GP surgery and an AI Tech company, working to predict the risk of unplanned hospital admissions. Clinicians ask patients 5 simple questions which generate a score.  The score acts as a tool to help patients make health changes, and there is the potential for the data to be used proactively to target at risk patients and put preventative interventions in place.

Another workshop explored the South Somerset Symphony Programme, a new care model vanguard designed to deliver new models of care for the local population of 130,000.  This includes health coaching, complex care, and front line practitioners – all designed to reduce hospital stays and improve care.  Also featured was the fantastic work by Wellbeing Expert building communities and improving wellbeing through GP social prescribing.

Watch the video from the event below:

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