NHS Collaboration

Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)

Established by NHS England in 2013, there are now 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England charged with driving adoption and spreading innovation at pace and at scale to improve health and economic wealth of their regions and UK plc.  They are meant to connect the NHS and academic organisations, local authorities, the third sector and industry, serving as catalysts that create the right conditions to facilitate change across whole health and social care economies with a clear focus on improving patient outcomes.  Each AHSN also has the remit to bring together the resources and assets in their geography to create a synergy between researchers in universities, industry and entrepreneurs, and the local NHS to identify, exploit and commercialise innovations that will have national and international significance.  Thus, they are helpful in making connections into regions and for building collaborations.

The 15 Regional AHSNs

  • East Midlands AHSN (AHSN for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, & Leicestershire— located in Nottingham)
  • Eastern AHSN (AHSN for East of England except West Bedfordshire, South Essex, West & South Hertfordshire— located in Cambridge)
  • Health Innovation Manchester (AHSN for Greater Manchester— located in Manchester)
  • Health Innovation Network  (AHSN for South London— located in London)
  • Imperial College Health Partners  (Northwest London— located in London)
  • Innovation Agency (AHSN for the North West Coast— located in Daresbury, Preston & Liverpool)
  • Kent Surrey Sussex AHSN  (AHSN for the South East— located in Crawley)
  • Northeast and North Cumbria AHSN  (AHSN for Tyneside, Sunderland, Cumbria, Teesside, Durham & Northumberland— located in Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
  • Oxford AHSN (AHSN for Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire— located in Oxford)
  • South West AHSN (AHSN for Somerset, Devon, Cornwall & Isles of Scilly— located in Exeter)
  • UCL Partners  (AHSN for North East & Central London, South & West Hertfordshire, South Bedfordshire & South West Essex— located in London)
  • Wessex AHSN (AHSN for Bournemouth, Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Poole, Portsmouth, Southampton & South Wiltshire— located in Hampshire)
  • West Midlands AHSN  (AHSN for Birmingham, Black Country, Coventry & Stoke-on-Trent— located in Birmingham)
  • West of England AHSN  (AHSN for Bristol, Bath and Northeast Somerset, Swindon, Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire & North Somerset— located in Bristol)
  • Yorkshire and Humber AHSN (AHSN for Leeds, Wakefield & York—located in Wakefield)

The Commercial Medicines Directorate (Procurement)

The Commercial Medicines Directorate, is closely linked to NICE, to help patients to get the best outcomes and treatment, and to help the NHS and taxpayers achieve maximum value from the NHS’s significant spend (around £18 billion/year) on medicines. The Commercial Development team works collaboratively with industry and engages early with pharmaceutical companies to ensure patients get fast access to innovative or best value new medicines. The directorate also works with the relevant commissioning functions of NHS England and NHS Improvement to prepare the healthcare service for the implementation of new medicines. Their work also includes:

Commercial Medicines Unit

The Commercial Medicines Unit (CMU) is part of the Medicine, Pharmacy and Industry Group of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) which looks at supply and procurement in hospitals.  They work with NHS pharmacists and suppliers to gather and analyse the money spent on secondary care (hospital) medicines.  CMU works on behalf of both Department of Health & Social Services and the NHS.  The people working at CMU have specialist market knowledge of generics and branded medicines to help hospitals in managing the contracting process for medicines in England and to provide support for projects on behalf of the DHSC. 

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) & Innovative Medicines Fund

The Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) is a source of funding overseen by NICE for cancer drugs in England, that provides patients with faster access to the most promising new cancer treatments, helps to ensure more value for money for taxpayers, and offers pharmaceutical companies (who price their products responsibly) a fast-track route to NHS funding. This means that NICE can now make 3 recommendations when appraising cancer drugs: Yes, No, and Recommended for use within the CDF. The CDF provides interim funding which can mean faster access to cancer drugs, saving up to eight months in some cases. While the CDF appraises how clinical and cost effectiveness of cancer drugs, the MHRA and EMA are responsible for managing drug safety.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a new Innovative Medicines Fund as part of the Conservative Party platform. This would provide an extra £160 million by extending the CDF’s current pot of £340 million into an Innovative Medicines Fund so that doctors can use the most advanced, life-saving treatments for conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disease, or for children with other rare diseases.

NOTE: We do not know what budgetary pressures COVID-19 will bring to bear on funding initiatives and, indeed on other aspects of various activities.  BELS will continue to monitor and update Members going forward so do watch our news flow and adjustments to this website over time.

NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC)

The NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) supports the ambition to make the NHS one of the most pro-innovation health systems in the world.  The AAC brings together industry, government bodies, regulators, patient  groups and the NHS to streamline adoption of new impactful, cost-effective healthcare innovations, including : medicines, diagnostics, devices, digital products, pathway changes and new workforce models.

NHS Innovation Accelerator

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) is a national accelerator supporting dedicated individual Fellows to scale their high-impact, evidence-based innovations across the NHS and wider healthcare system.  The initiative is delivered in partnership with NHS England and England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).  Launched in 2015, its broad aims are to help create the conditions and culture change necessary for proven innovations to be adopted faster and more systematically in the NHS; deliver innovation into practice for demonstrable patient and population benefit; and learn from Fellows’ experiences so that others benefit from knowledge generated.  As part of an annual international call, the NIA invites applications from exceptional individuals representing innovations which address clear needs and challenges faced by the NHS.


NHSX is responsible for setting national policy and developing best practice for NHS technology, digital and data sharing and transparency.  It brings together teams from Department of Health & Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement with a range of skills and expertise, including clinicians, technologists, policy experts, developers, data scientists and project managers to drive the digital transformation of care and lead on policy, implementation and change.  With investment of more than £1 billion a year nationally and a significant additional spend locally, NHSX was created in April 2019 to give staff and citizens the technology they need in deliver the Secretary of State’s Technology Vision and to build on the NHS Long Term Plan in speeding up the digital transformation of the NHS and social care.