Report highlights the need to harness innovation

The Senior Fellow to the Chair and Chief Executive’s Office of NHS England shares his thoughts on the Accelerated Access review interim report

The Accelerated Access Review (AAR) interim report released today highlights the importance of harnessing innovation in the NHS to achieve better quality and improved outcomes for patients.

The recommendations in the report are encouraging for clinical trainees. While studying and working in Boston I was involved in founding a startup. The idea was to help manage asthma medication adherence for children using gaming and sensor technology.

A year into the venture, we realised the market was not quite ready for this and a simpler solution was needed. The start-up failed but that was okay. Many lessons were learnt including the difficulty in creating video games that children will engage with.

The key aspect, however, was that as a clinical innovator I was supported and had dedicated time to take an idea forward. Just like we allow time for clinical audits and research projects, we need to support clinical innovators in the NHS so they have the time and guidance to develop ideas into solutions that solve real healthcare problems.

Since moving back to work in the NHS, I have often found it difficult to find ‘ecosystems’ where healthcare innovation is promoted and harnessed. There are pockets of this occurring across the country led by the AHSNs and leading university hospitals, but we need more. In my current clinical practice, I am starting to see glimpses of this occurring but the approach is still fragmented. We need a consistent and coordinated approach for innovators. This will require a collective and collaborative effort to help build momentum and showcase these solutions.

The interim report has five emerging themes arising from the findings, which demonstrates the commitment in healthcare innovation from leaders across the health system.

Firstly, patients need to be at the centre of healthcare innovation and they need to be given a stronger voice to ensure their views are represented. This will ensure that we direct innovation towards outcomes that matter most to the patient.

Secondly, in order for the health system to become sustainable, the NHS needs to accelerate and manage the entry of products and services which promise the most significant, potentially transformative impact in terms of patient benefit and overall value. The NHS has a tremendous infrastructure in place but we need to become more proactive in leveraging on these assets and giving patients earlier access to the latest innovations at the lowest cost possible.

Thirdly, the interim report recommends supporting innovators whether they are clinicians, researchers, entrepreneurs or companies both big and small. This is a welcome recommendation as the NHS under the auspices of Professor Bruce Keogh recently launched the NHS Integrated Clinician Entrepreneur Training Scheme, the first of its kind globally.

The fourth theme recommends the NHS must be an active partner in promoting innovation and must be incentivised to adopt new products and systems quickly and effectively. This aligns with the NHS Five Year Forward View and the key programmes being implemented across the NHS including the New Models of Care and Test Bed sites.

And finally, in order for the health system to deliver this change, we need to build on existing system structures and enhance these collaborative structures both to improve their reach and align commitments across the system.

As a clinician, this review comes at timely point encouraging the importance of frontline staff in delivering change and developing a more sustainable NHS. I often meet colleagues who are driven to find new and improved ways of treating and caring for patients and we need to create a system that rewards and recognises these innovators.

The NHS is, and will remain, at the forefront of providing the greatest care for its patients. Additionally, in the UK, we have the potential to be one of the greatest powers in science, research and innovation and to build on the thriving life science sector we currently have.

Harpreet Sood

Dr Harpreet Sood is currently a Clinical Advisor for the COVID-19 Vaccine programme, a GP and a board member at Health Education England. Previously he was Associate Chief Clinical Information Officer and Senior Fellow to the CEO of NHS England.

In his previous roles Harpreet led on the NHS Digital Academy and worked on the Global Digital Exemplar programme.

Harpreet trained as a clinical doctor at King’s College London and Imperial College Business School and practiced as a doctor in East London.

Following this he did a masters degree in public health (MPH) at Harvard University where he focused on international health policy and co-founded a digital health start-up.

Post MPH, Harpreet was a Deland Fellow in health policy and management at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a large academic medical centre in Boston.