The value of Clinical Networks in the delivery of high-quality, integrated care has long been recognised. But all too often, turning potential into tangible impact has been a significant challenge.
What are Clinical Networks?
Clinical Networks refer to voluntary multidisciplinary networks of clinicians that aim to improve service delivery using a collaborative approach to identify patient and health service need and to implement strategies to improve quality of care and patient outcomes. In addition, Strategic Clinical Networks, driven by national policy, focus on priority service areas (such as cancer and maternity) to bring about improvements in the quality and equity of care and population health outcomes.
At their best, Clinical Networks provide the potential to reduce unwarranted variation in health and wellbeing services, provide innovation for service delivery and offer clinical advice and leadership which supports decision making and strategic planning. But historically, a fragmented approach to Networks has resulted in their limited success in influencing healthcare institutions and prevented them from achieving their full potential.
Embedding Clinical Networks in the NHS
In July 2022, legislative changes will provide the biggest change in the health and care sector since 1948. The drive for integrated care will remove the commissioner/provider split and will create an environment where healthcare organisations collaborate rather than compete. This more strategic and outcomes-driven focus will provide a golden opportunity to refocus how Clinical Networks function and how they can become embedded in operational delivery as well as strategic decision making.
Coupled with this structural change is a renewed focus and energy for Clinical Networks that was reinvigorated by the COVID-19 response. During the pandemic, Networks were established as local, national and even international virtual communities of practice (CoP) – ensuring no one was left behind in the battle against the largest global health crisis in living memory. Networks found their role during COVID and this must be capitalised on by maintaining current commitment and pace of change.
Sharing best practice
In recent weeks, Arden & GEM has been working with South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System to gain practical understanding of how Clinical Networks can become an integral part of the solution for high quality and sustainable healthcare. We have also begun work with East Midlands Provider Alliance across 8 Trusts and 6 ICS’s and at a national level on networked services that are more challenged. To gain an understanding of international best practice around Clinical Networks, we have also been collaborating with Alberta Health Services from Canada.
To share this learning and best practice, we hosted a webinar that discussed maximising the impact of Clinical Networks. Even though Canada and England operate very different health systems, interestingly the narrative around Clinical Networks had many similarities.
Firstly, on the challenge of implementing effective Networks, the successful inclusion of primary care in the development of pathways became a common theme. Though difficult, where this had been done well the benefits were considerable. Key learning centred on using primary care to deliver population health approaches driven by priority segments, standardisation in the structure of pathways and measurement of value and outcomes, to deliver familiarity and, most importantly, the development of shared problems and objectives.
Secondly, discussions focused on what was required to successfully enable Clinical Networks to become part of the solution and have more influence. This was summarised in four key points:
- Shared understanding of the role and responsibility of networks in systems (and across systems), for and with provider collaboratives, and place governance
- Shared ambition for the Clinical Network’s role in delivering stewardship of resources, outcomes and value for a population group
- Agreement on resourcing and priorities for Clinical Networks – with the teams, resources and accountability to deliver priority transformation in the care provided by each network
- Ensuring that networks are accountable for results – publishing improvements made in delivering improvements in equity, outcomes and quality of care.
There is no doubt that Clinical Networks provide access to countless opportunities for both clinicians and patients, allowing them to communicate, interact and collaborate with each other to enhance services and improve health and outcomes. The challenge for Integrated Care Systems is to ensure this opportunity is maximised by embedding Clinical Networks within the health system to drive service improvement.
If your Integrated Care System would like to find out more about our work around Clinical Networks then please contact Alison Tonge at firstname.lastname@example.org