A UK-wide network for people responsible for anchor approaches in health

Health Anchors Learning Network

With Health Foundation, NHS England and NHS Improvement, England

The Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN) is a UK-wide network for people responsible for, or interested in, anchor approaches in health to share and learn from each other.

The need

Anchor institutions are large public sector organisations which are rooted in place and connected to their communities, such as universities, local authorities, and hospitals. Anchors have significant assets and spending power and can consciously use these resources to benefit communities.

As well as providing health services, the NHS can use its resources, influence and work in partnership to maximise its social, economic and environmental impact to improve the social determinants of health, health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a stark light on the inequalities in our society, spurring institutions to take purposeful anchor action to address the underlying economic, social and environmental causes of inequality and poor health.

Even before COVID-19, widening inequalities and growing pressures on health care services have also prompted questions about the role and responsibility of large public sector organisations to tackle the wider determinants of health and to act as ‘anchor institutions’, as demonstrated in the NHS Long Term Plan for England.

The aims

Practical and relevant sharing and learning is at the heart of the network – and HALN provides a range of opportunities for participants to:

  • engage with peers to learn from each other’s diverse experiences;
  • develop skills and learn from experts from health and care and other sectors;
  • connect with other existing relevant geographic or thematic NHS networks;
  • create innovative practices and establish collaborations; and
  • problem solve together.

By working together, the network:

  • supports NHS anchors at the heart of local partnerships to develop their capacity and capability to maximise the economic, social and environmental impact
  • grows the evidence base about the role and impact of anchors
  • scales the work of anchors across the UK
  • supports  innovation and informs policy change.

“By bringing together peers, partners and professionals the Health Anchors Learning Network can begin to foster the sharing and support necessary to build the strategic and operational confidence in the NHS’ ability to engage as an anchor. In recognising that this is an agenda where permissiveness and principles matter far more than policing, the Network can ensure the learning is embedded in future NHS policy and expectations” Michael Wood, Head of Health Economic Partnerships, NHS Confederation

The approach

Whether participants are new to anchor initiatives or have been delivering anchor work for a while, HALN listens to their needs to creates activities including:

  • Events: webinars and interactive workshops with experts in health and care and other sectors, and for participants to share experience and learning with each other
  • Learning set: a series of sessions with small peer groups to share ideas on a specific topic
  • Online discussion forum: connecting people who share interests and can offer advice and support
  • Resources: a crowdsourced library of reports, toolkits and information about anchor work
  • Blogs: featuring ideas and thought leadership from anchor experts.

The network is delivered by Innovation Unit and supported by the Health Foundation and NHS England and NHS Improvement.