NHS open to global innovation: healthcare leaders launch search for best new ideas from around the world

Local ‘test beds’ to trial new ways of improving care for patients as part of NHS Five Year Forward View.

A worldwide call has today (Thursday 26 March) been launched for innovators to partner with local health and care systems in trialling new technologies, digital services and other innovations with the potential to deliver big benefits to patients and taxpayers alike.

NHS England and the UK Government are calling for expressions of interest from innovators from any sector in the UK and overseas who want to test their ideas to deliver health services in better ways at scale, and in a real clinical setting.

Working in partnership with the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) the programme will identify around five ‘test beds’ that will receive national support for implementing high potential innovations that respond to local clinical needs. These test beds may include combinations of GPs, hospitals, community health teams, social care and the voluntary sector. They will need to have the ability to implement innovations on a large   scale, and to collect evidence of the improvement of outcomes delivered to patients.

The announcement is the latest stage of implementing the NHS Five Year Forward View, which set out additional steps the NHS will take to accelerate innovation in better ways of delivering health and care. It also builds on the UK Life Sciences Strategy and the NHS ‘Innovation Health and Wealth’ Proposals.

Too often, new technologies have been tested alone, in isolation from complementary innovations in how NHS services are delivered, limiting the value they produce. This programme will address this shortcoming of previous approaches.

Innovators from industry, the voluntary sector or the NHS itself are therefore being asked to put forward new technologies that, working in combination with innovations in health and care   delivery, could offer better outcomes for patients as well as better value for taxpayers.

For example, this could mean equipping patients with wearable technology, combined with new patterns of working for clinical and nursing staff which aim to help patients manage long-term conditions, address any potential problems as early as possible, and help keep them out of hospital.

As part of the government’s commitment to funding large scale demonstrators of Internet of Things technologies, UK-based consortia focused on Internet of Things technologies for health and social care are also invited to come forward. Maximising the use of digital technology and data, both in the delivery of services to patients and the ability of test bed partners to track outcomes and evaluate success, will be a key criteria on which bidders will be judged.

In return for an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate their new systems or solutions at large scale on a global stage, and how they could be replicated across the NHS and in other healthcare systems, successful bids will need to demonstrate benefit to patients as well as how they will reduce inefficiency and provide wider financial benefits to the NHS and the UK economy.

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens said: “The NHS’ ambition is to become the best place on the planet to test new combinations of innovations that produce clear payoffs for patients and taxpayers. We’ll never be the system that pays the highest prices, we could be the health service most open to new and better ways of providing care.”

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman MP said: “Whilst our NHS has pioneered world beating medical breakthroughs, for too long we have been a slow adopter of innovations developed outside the system, and too slow at rolling out best practice so all NHS patients benefit.

“The NHS Test Bed programme is about unlocking the potential of the world’s only fully integrated health system as the ultimate platform for assessing the real value of innovations. By doing this we open the door to making the UK once again the best place in the world to invest in and develop medical innovations.”

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, said: “The digital revolution is transforming our lives in many sectors but the health sector is lagging in reaping the potential rewards.

“The test bed initiative is a hugely important opportunity to bring together the needs of healthcare and the creative energy of industry to speed the implementation of digital technologies for patient benefit and to promote economic growth.”

Rachel Munton, Chair of the network of AHSNs, said: “The fifteen AHSNs have been at the forefront of supporting and spreading new ideas, new technologies and new ways of improving services for patients since they were formed.

“We are therefore delighted to play our part in supporting local health and care systems to take advantage of this exciting opportunity to partner with innovators and take radical steps towards modernising and improving the services they offer to patients. We also look forward to being able to take the learning and the success stories from test beds to other systems across the NHS in the coming years.”

Neil Mesher, Managing Director of Philips, who already work with the NHS on implementing new technological solutions, said: “At Philips, we strive for innovative solutions that help deliver better care at lower costs. Our approach goes beyond technology, drawing on the experiences and insights of patients, providers and caregivers across the health continuum.

“We warmly welcome this initiative, to help accelerate the adoption of combinations of innovative products and solutions at scale across the NHS.”

The application process opens today, and closes on 29 May; further information on the scheme and submitting bids can be found at

The core tenets of the vision for test beds are:

  • To enhance the nation’s health  and wellbeing, by preventing disease and poor health in people  in the first case and restoring them to autonomous and fulfilling lives as quickly as possible when they do fall ill
  • To improve health and care services, resulting in better patient outcomes and experience of care, which can be evidenced
  • To improve integration between primary, secondary and social care
  • To identify ways of reducing health and social care costs at scale
  • To increase the NHS’ learning capability, accelerating its ability to conduct pragmatic yet robust trials initially in limited sites, and spreading those with the greatest benefits more widely
  • To lay the foundations for boosting economic growth, aiming to lead the world in the development and implementation of digital care systems, innovative care pathways and precision medicine.
  • To pioneer new models of reimbursement on the basis of proven effectiveness of reducing disease costs.

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  1. Dick Wallis says:

    Childbirth fatalities (maternal and infant) in UK are not what one would expect in one of the world’s most advanced economies and healthcare systems. Frequently due to anoxia or hypoxia, some very interesting technology to address this problem has been developed in another advanced economy and could be made available to the NHS and other UK healthcare organisations. I would be very interested in speaking to any potential funder who may be able to assist in advancing this progress.

  2. Pete Austin says:

    Simple idea: if a patient can produce their old prescriptions going back 12 months, for long-term conditions such as asthma, at the pharmacy, let them just buy their inhalers instead of having to get a repeat prescription every time.

    This would save money (last time I bought an inhaler privately it cost less than the prescription charge) and also lives, as it would avoid the cost and delay in applying for a repeat prescription and waiting for it to arrive, during which time the patient is at increased risk if they get a serious asthma attack.

    I realize it’s no-tech, so not sexy, but I think the ROI would be very high.