An insightful blog on networks

Prof. Rebecca Malby

Across the world leading health systems are setting up collaborative networks to meet the complex health needs of their populations. The days when healthcare could be provided by one organization are long gone, and citizens are no longer just ‘patients’, but are partners in coproducing their care, in co-learning with health professionals and in advocating for services. It’s great to see these networks accessing our materials to develop their approach. 

Delivering care in partnership across organisations and teams.

The Cincinnati Health Network is a network of health providers and commissioners working as a system with a team of case managers, social workers, community health workers, mental health facilitator working with Cincinnati Children’s facilities and physicians, community paediatricians, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), city clinics and other community providers. They have accessed the work we undertook at the Health Foundation 'Leading Networks in Healthcare' to inform how they have established this collaborative delivery network. This is a model for the types of people-focused, population-based changes that the Sustainability and Transformation Plans are trying to achieve.

Collaborating with citizens

The Northern Region Head and Neck Cancer network, in New Zealand a support and advocacy network is using our book on Networks in Healthcare, Managing complex relationships to design their network approach. This is a model for connecting people with a common condition to secure the services they want and support each other.

These are good lessons for future organisational forms in health and care. Hierarchies, performance management, and contracts are only useful mechanisms for a small percentage of the work of health and care services. Overwhelmingly the future is in multiple collaborations and partnerships, in learning together across boundaries, and in experimenting with new ways of working. The latter requires networks as the best way to generate creative solutions and to secure rapid knowledge development.

However the NHS is wedded to a culture of hierarchy and control. Even where collaborations are emerging, they are using project management mechanisms to try and tame complex problems, rather than develop a network model. It won’t work. The world is moving on, recognising the power and energy in networks, and the need to distribute power and work as peers. Leading in this context and through this approach is very different from leading in hierarchies. It requires facilitation, engagement, testing of emergent approaches, multi-disciplinary, coproduction and a great intelligence function. All of these are poorly developed in the UK’s health and care culture. This website and the diagnostics provided here are the first steps in both learning how to establish and lead a network, and in facilitating the member conversations needed in order to collaborate effectively.