So long and thanks for all the fish…*

19th August 2019 - By Dr Seamus O’Neill

Celebration, catharsis, reflection or thank you? This blog could be a bit of all four as it marks the end of my tenure as CEO for the AHSN here in the North East and North Cumbria.

The last six years have been an adventure as we set up the AHSN in our region and worked with colleagues across the country to create a national network of AHSNs, identifying and spreading best practice and delivering programmes together.

Reflecting first on some of the national impact, it is a source of huge pride to me, as it is to the rest of the team, that we have played our part in the delivery of some hugely important change programmes nationally. This has only been possible because of the trusted status that we each have as AHSNs within our own health economies.


As a direct consequence of this work across The AHSN Network on national programmes, lives have been saved, harm has been avoided and costs have been reduced or capacity protected.

The graphics above illustrate the inflection points associated with the engagement of the AHSN Network in four of the programmes – other initiatives show the same effect.

And do you know what? We could do it again, and we will. We have learned how to do this sort of large-scale change, we know what works and what doesn’t. A couple of clues: top-down doesn’t; frameworks for change help, so does decent data and agreed end points; and targets are not the same as a plan or competence. Go figure…?

We have done our bit from NENC in shaping and leading on national priorities. The economic growth remit of the AHSN Network has come into sharp focus with the collation and reporting of all the industry interactions and real-world evaluations we support. This has highlighted the enormous benefit accruing to the life sciences sector in the UK of interactions between the NHS and industry.

The NHS is a fertile source of commercially important invention, it is a rigorous testing ground for evaluation and it is an important market for products and services. All are crucial for the success of the UK life sciences sector and the AHSNs broker all of these interactions.

The graphic below shows the benefit to companies and the economy of introductions, support and strategic partnerships brokered by the AHSNs. We are proud here in NENC to have led on this work for the AHSN Network and Nicola will provide both continuity and leadership on this in her new role as interim CEO as she takes her rightful place in the national Chief Officers’ Group.

All the evidence is that the AHSN here in NENC is in rude good health. Nicola and the Executive have been running the show this past 8 months while I have been swanning around on national work as the AHSN Network Chair – and very privileged I was too.

The NENC team has been strengthened significantly and is now a formidable unit. In addition, we still have a really engaged and supportive Board and we have fabulous networks of practitioners across our system who fully get what it means to leave your team shirt at the door to work on the crunchy issues that affect us all, but can only be solved through cross-organisational working. We have great examples of these across data-sharing, interoperability, patient safety, prevention, quality improvement and a host of others.

We are still an organisation people want to work in and I strongly believe that this is down to the optimism and professionalism that the team bring to everything they do. The positive and healthy culture here is down to a nearly infinite number of acts of kindness and tolerance, all while remaining focussed on supporting the region we serve. Long may it continue and I am sure it will.

It has been an honour and a privilege to be part of the AHSN NENC and the AHSN Network nationally. It is a great undertaking, there is fabulous learning and we have done a lot of good stuff along the way. I remain hugely grateful to all the wonderful people I have met many of whom I now count as friends.

So, signing off, I wish both peers et al at national level and Nicola, the Exec and AHSN team here in NENC every success, and I will watch, and cheer, from the sidelines.

With grateful thanks, every best wish and the fondest of memories.




For the uninitiated, the cryptic quote with which this blog begins (‘ So long and thanks for all the fish’) is from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There are many worthy academic tomes and genres which are relevant to life in the AHSNs. I have found most from Monty Python (Life of Brian mainly – People’s Front of Judea, splitters and the ‘what have the Romans ever done for us’), Douglas Adams’ work has been our most constant literary companion – think ‘mostly harmless’ and ‘Vogon poetry’.