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Health Anchors Learning Network A UK-wide network for people responsible for, or interested in, anchor approaches to share ideas, knowledge and skills.

Webinar: NHS as an anchor institution - Illustration

Key Points

  • The Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN) aims to build knowledge, skills and expertise to maximise the NHS’s social, economic and environmental impact. 
  • The HALN was born out of a two-year co-funded programme between the Health Foundation and NHS England to explore the role of the NHS as an anchor institution.
  • The HALN launched in early 2021 and is delivered by the Innovation Unit and funded by the Health Foundation.

What is an anchor institution? 

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. 

The Health Foundation report Building healthier communities: The role of the NHS as an anchor institution showcases where NHS organisations are already implementing anchor practices and outlines opportunities for the NHS to make a difference on the wider determinants of health and reduce health inequalities.

About the Health Anchors Learning Network (HALN)

The HALN is a UK-wide network for people who are interested in, or responsible for, anchor approaches to share ideas, knowledge and skills. Through individual and collective learning, our aim is that participants will become better equipped to implement anchor strategies in practice.

The HALN was inspired by the Health Foundation’s 2019 report Building healthier communities: the role of the NHS as an anchor institution, and international initiatives such as the Healthcare Anchor Network in the US. In the NHS Long Term Plan, the Health Foundation and NHS England committed to working together to explore and enhance the role of the NHS as an anchor institution.

The HALN launched in early 2021 and is delivered by the Innovation Unit.

In addition to the HALN, the Health Foundation and NHS England commissioned a developmental evaluation, delivered by SQW, to understand the effectiveness of the network. In early 2022 we also launched the Test and Learn programme for HALN participants to test and embed anchor approaches and share new and valuable learning for the network.

Following the initial two-year programme of work with NHS England, the HALN continues to be funded by the Health Foundation to support our strategic priority to improve people’s health and reduce health inequalities.

HALN learning and impact

The evaluation showed that the HALN has acted as a facilitator in making anchor practices (activities or interventions to support an organisation’s role as an anchor institution) more accessible and increased confidence among participants (p36). Several interviewees identified that the HALN had sped up the development of their anchor practice (p39).

The evaluation also indicated that the ability to learn from a community of engaged and like-minded participants is a key strength of the network, where participants can exchange ideas, problem solve and hear from those in other organisations, nations and sectors (p23). Peer learning has been valuable, particularly in an emergent agenda, where participants can exchange ideas and know that others face similar challenges (p36).

The evaluation reported that HALN participants are directly influencing local strategy and practice, and some have shared that learning from HALN has helped to inform these efforts (p41).

We gained credibility that this is a national issue, [which] helped raise the profile of our work and support resource requests.’ – HALN participant.

At a national level, the evaluation found that the HALN has played some role in influencing through having NHS England as a programme partner. For example, feeding in HALN learning via the 2022/23 priorities for the system and the Integrated Care Systems (ICS) framework, with contribution to the role of ICSs in social and economic development (p42). The HALN was also referenced in the NHS long term workforce plan.

The evaluation noted that HALN’s increasing involvement in knowledge sharing events indicates the network taking more strategic activity to influence policy and practice (p42). ICSs will play an increasingly important role in this agenda. While ‘supporting systems to understand their role in the anchors agenda’ is a longer-term objective for HALN, the evaluation reported examples of NHS regional leads using HALN resources to engage ICSs on anchors and how existing practice aligned with system goals (p40).

The evaluation reports that the HALN is now well-known among those interested in anchor practice and has a unique position because of its exclusive focus on anchors, its breadth of topics and it being UK-focused (p16). At the time of the evaluation, the HALN had grown its profile with over 1,600 participants.

Participants have shared that the HALN is a ‘piece of the jigsaw’ to support anchor work and complementing other initiatives being delivered in a region or a locality (p24).

‘I think they’ve done a great job in the way they’ve rolled out the programme. It’s something very new and diverse.’ - HALN participant

The evaluation outlined how there is a broad spectrum of anchor maturity in the HALN, with some participants at the beginning of their anchor journey whereas others are a lot more advanced.

While this diversity is valued, it’s been challenging for HALN to cater to a variety of different participants’ needs. For example, participants who were newer to anchor approaches benefited from more cross-cutting topics such as ‘how to get started’, whereas mature anchors were more interested in peer learning and linking into national bodies (p18). Going forward, the HALN will need to continue to carefully balance breadth of learning with depth of learning.

The evaluation also reported that participants would like to see even more learning from other sectors outside health in the coming year, as well as more opportunities for peer learning (p21). Most participants are England-based, so there is scope to strengthen the UK-wide community.

The HALN has made good progress on generating practical resources, but more is still needed to develop the evidence base and support impact measurement of anchor strategies. While this isn’t necessarily the HALN’s role to do this, participants noted that the HALN and its ‘bottom-up insights’ could be well placed to inform any future national guidance for anchor impact measurement (p34).

Throughout the evaluation report there are early examples of the HALN drawing on participant insights and curated learning to influence the anchors agenda. As a result, the evaluation reports that there is an opportunity for HALN to actively inform policy (subject to resource and support from partners) (p48).

The HALN is well placed to use its synthesised learning, that is rooted in people’s experiences of doing anchor work in practice, to intentionally shape the anchors conversation (p54) and how it evolves in future.

Get involved

All those interested who are interested in, or work on, anchor approaches in health, are welcome to join HALN. It is free to join.

If you have any questions, please email hello@haln.org.uk 

Tools and resources

HALN resources

Access tools, learning and case-studies to support anchor work in practice.

HALN events

Watch and learn from a range of people and organisations, both from the UK and internationally, on what it takes to do anchor work in practice.

Anchor Measurement Toolkit 

The Anchor Measurement Toolkit, developed by UCLPartners and supported by the Health Foundation, provides guidance and support to local health anchors and their partners, helping them to capture their activity and impact.

Resources from the Test and Learn grant programme

The Test and Learn grant programme funded six teams from HALN to make progress on their anchor work and develop valuable learning to share back with the network. A number of tools and resources were developed as part of these projects.

Further reading

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