NHS can be the home of the Innovation Revolution

The NHS has the opportunity to become the “go-to place for innovations”.

That is the view of Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s National Medical Director, who today refuted any suggestion that the health service is slow to embrace or develop innovations, but did concede that ii is often too slow to exploit them.

Sir Bruce was speaking during a panel debate at the Health and Innovation Expo 2015 in Manchester, which explored how innovation can be spread across the NHS.

The NHS Innovation Accelerator programme was launched in January by Simon Stevens and Sir Bruce, and is a partnership between NHS England, the Health Foundation and the Academic Health and Science Networks (AHSNs).

It aims to speed up the adoption of new innovations – both inventions and new ways of working – for the benefit of patients and the wider population by supporting individuals with a high-impact innovation and a willingness to spread their learning through collaboration.

Around 140 innovators applied for the scheme, with the 17 chosen so far announced in July.

Sir Bruce Keogh said: “There’s been a lot of debate about our NHS, but one of the things often levelled at us is why we are so slow to embrace innovations. I don’t accept the argument that we don’t develop innovations, but I do accept that we are often too slow to exploit them. We have an opportunity in our NHS to be the go-to place in innovations.”

To demonstrate the kind of innovation which can have a big impact on health, Francis White, EU General Manager of AliveCor and NIA Fellow, showed the audience a device which fits to the back of a smartphone, turning it into a medical-grade ECG monitor, allowing patients to see whether they are in atrial fibrillation. And he discussed BrushDJ, a product which encourages children to brush their teeth for two minutes in an effort to reduce their need for dental care.

Dr Matt Jameson, Co-Founder of Health Unlocked and NIA Fellow, explained what the programme means to innovators in getting their ideas and inventions into use: “The NIA programme offers us the chance to take a risk that we wouldn’t otherwise take, without it we would have to go to patients direct.”

Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, Co-founder of the NHS Innovation Accelerator, said: “Some parts of the NHS are operating in the Digital Age, but other parts are operating in the Stone Age; those parts need to get real about innovation.”

Dr Liz Mear, CEO of North West Coast AHSN and national co-lead for Patient Safety Collaboratives, outlined the role that AHSNs can play in supporting innovation, saying: “Working with AHSNs can help innovators open doors to the NHS.

“Innovators should also be flexible in how they respond to what NHS organisations and service users actually tell them they want and need from them.”

Sir Bruce, discussing the barriers to innovations being taken up in the NHS added: “In the private sector, when you face financial pressures you refocus, and find out exactly what your customers want but we don’t do that well enough in the NHS. It can also often be tribal when the going gets tough – different organisations and groups fighting for their own interests rather than solving problems together.”

Summing up the session after questions from the audience, Professor Donal O’Donaghue, Medical Director of Greater Manchester AHSN and an NIA Mentor, said: “The key challenge we face is how we expand what we’re doing here from 17 innovators, to 170, to 170,000.

“This programme is just the start of a journey which is fundamentally important for our NHS.”