75 years young – Why having an innovation culture is so vital to the NHS’s longevity

The NHS has a long-standing history of innovation since it was founded in 1948, which has been a crucial factor in transforming the healthcare industry. From pioneering procedures such as intra-ocular lens implants and total hip replacements, to critical technologies like computerised tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the NHS has always been at the forefront of medical innovation. These innovations have not only transformed individual patient lives but have also brought significant benefits to the UK economy and society.

Innovation remains a cornerstone of the NHS, and it is now more important than ever before. The NHS is still facing ongoing pressures, but innovation is playing a crucial role in every aspect of our work. From operational pressures, increased demand to tackling health inequalities and improving outcomes, innovation is rising to the challenge, providing ground-breaking diagnosis and treatments.

Innovation in the NHS is purposeful and addresses real-world challenges and priorities facing society today. By focusing on areas that contribute most to early mortality, disability, and lost productivity in the UK, we can make the biggest impact on people’s lives.

Take Deep Medical, an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technology on trial in Essex that has the potential to create over 100,000 additional hospital out-patient appointments per year. Founded by a frontline NHS doctor and a data scientist, Deep Medical collects non-personal data, including traffic information, weather forecasts, census data, and other data sources, to accurately predict the likelihood of a patient missing an appointment. It can then make tailored recommendations on actions to mitigate that possibility, harnessing the power of AI to support the workforce and deliver equitable access to care.

Ufonia is another innovative telemedicine platform helping to reduce elective backlogs by freeing up clinicians’ time. The tech replaces routine healthcare interactions with next generation automated phone calls. Now in use for cataract surgery follow-up across Oxford, Buckinghamshire and Frimley Park over 2000 patients have used the system with two thirds discharged utilising the AI triage technology.

Cytosponge is a diagnostic test on a string that speeds up the detection of patients at high risk of oesophageal cancer and can be used in acute or community settings. St Helens and Knowsley teaching hospital report that the product enabled them to clear their entire backlog of 300 patients awaiting endoscopies for Barrett’s oesophagus and they were able to bring patient appointments forward.

CanSense is an accurate, non-invasive, inexpensive blood test that uses an artificial intelligence-based model to diagnose bowel cancer early. The diagnostic tool can be used in primary care to stratify patients appropriately and rapidly, significantly reducing the need for invasive procedures, such as colonoscopy and speeding up the diagnosis of cancer.

All these innovations and hundreds more like them have been supported by the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), hosted by NHS England. One of NHS England’s missions has been to not only promote and encourage innovative and entrepreneurial thought but to also implement those ideas and help innovators navigate the system to achieve spread. The AAC is a vehicle for developing strategic partnerships between the NHS and industry to ensure a thriving health and life sciences and med-tech ecosystem that works for patients, society, and the economy.

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS and the amazing innovations that have transformed healthcare, let’s continue to look forward and support the next generation of innovators. At NHS England, we remain committed to supporting the system to continue to nurture innovation. We believe that innovation is the key to transforming healthcare delivery and improving outcomes for patients. We will continue to support innovators in navigating the healthcare system and developing new solutions to address real-world problems.

Matt Whitty

Matt Whitty, Chief Executive of the Accelerated Access Collaborative and Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences, NHS England.

Matt Whitty leads the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), a collaboration committed to getting the best new innovations to patients faster. The AAC set national strategic priorities and co-ordinate work to support the UK to be the best place in the world to discover, develop, test, trial, launch and adopt new treatments and technologies.