We are awash with innovation

I must admit to being rather envious of the entrepreneurial spirit coursing around the room when I was privileged enough to be invited to take part in the communications and marketing panel at the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) Panel Day.

The NIA is an NHS England initiative, delivered in partnership with England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), and has supported the uptake and spread of 37 high impact, evidence-based innovations across more than 1,700 NHS sites since it launched in July 2015.

Each of the new 13 innovations joining the NIA this year offer solutions supporting priority areas for England’s NHS: Mental Health, Primary Care and Early Diagnosis and Prevention of Cancer. Their recruitment onto the NIA follows an international call and robust selection process, including review by over 100 clinical, patient and commercial assessors, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

I met a fantastic group of highly dedicated and enthusiastic individuals whose innovations all stemmed from a wholehearted belief that they could positively change lives, and without exception I think they are right.

Each fellow spent only 15 minutes with the panels, so there was a real focus on imparting gems of information that could be imbibed and implemented. The fellows come from an incredibly diverse range of backgrounds from highly experienced clinicians, academia, healthcare economics professionals right through to individuals that have developed a service/product stemming from the frustration and isolation of caring for loved ones in the current healthcare environment.

It was an incredibly interesting and engaging time and I was extremely impressed by the dedication and commitment of all of the fellows. The challenge I see, borne out of many years placing services and products within the NHS and which was also recognised by all the fellows, was the challenging nature of NHS procurement and how to engage with decision makers.

So, what was the advice I was able to give?

  • Understand the procurement and commissioning process at a typical (yes, I know there is no such thing) of an STP or Trust area.
  • Have a forensic understanding of the multiple stakeholders and how they fit in the pyramid of influence. Is there an influential ICS? Is there a powerful GP Federation? Which GP sit on the CCG board?
  • Can demonstrate an understanding of the needs and challenges of the individuals and of the organisations that you are trying to engage with.
  • How can your product/service exactly meet those needs and challenges?
  • Early adopters or change agents in our experience tend to GPs or clinicians but they are risk adverse, so you must demonstrate and evidence success in other geographical or clinical areas. What if you can’t do that? You have to do everything you can to mitigate risk and if that risk is associated to investment, then you may need to consider exchanging product/service for free to create case study materials to evidence success.
  • Peer to peer engagement is your greatest communication tool, so do whatever you have to do to turn these individuals into advocates, your brand ambassadors.
  • Make sure you can clearly commoditise and package a proposition that is ‘purchasable’ by the payer.

In the fellow’s favour is the support and evidence they offer to the Department of Health and Social Care’s technology policy paper. This was launched in October 2018 where Matt Hancock MP, Health and Social Care Secretary set out his vision to help build the world’s most advanced health and care system. With case studies from two of the innovations supported by the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) there is real optimism that there will be greater engagement from the NHS than in the past, but as Lord Victor Adebowale said in a recent Desert Island Disc interview “don’t confuse access with influence”.

That’s enough free advice from me, have a look at all these great companies and see what you think.

Mental Health

  • ChatHealth: Safe, secure messaging service that puts young people and parents directly in touch with healthcare professionals. Developed by Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, it supports greater efficiencies by enabling individual nurses to provide services to many more people
  • Mush: Free app enabling mums to instantly become part of their local mum community, to seek advice, arrange meet-ups and to make friends for life
  • S12 Solutions: App and website connecting Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) with section 12 (s.12) approved doctors, enabling quicker and easier Mental Health Act (MHA) assessment set-up
  • Virti: Digital tool providing mental health support and training services to health professionals and patients at scale

Prevention and early diagnosis of cancer

  • Population Genetic Testing: Model of care for testing populations to identify individuals at higher risk of breast and ovarian cancers because they carry the BRCA1/2 genes
  • PrecisionPointTM Transperineal Access System: Urology device introducing local anaesthetic transperineal biopsies (needle inserted through the perineal skin rather than via the rectum), delivering safer, quicker and more effective prostate biopsies
  • Skin Analytics: Intervention which enables dermatologist-quality screening in GP practices by using AI algorithms to identify skin cancer
  • SkinVision: App empowering people to monitor their skin for early signs of skin cancer

Primary Care

  • Digital Continuing Healthcare (CHC) Assessment Process: Software innovation improving quality and productivity in Continuing Healthcare (CHC) teams by eliminating paper assessments and automating the workflow and communication to speed up decisions around eligibility
  • Droplet: Intelligent hydration aid which combats dehydration in community-based and acute settings by monitoring the frequency of drinking and providing instant visual and verbal reminders to drink
  • Echo: Free, secure app that lets you order NHS prescriptions and get medication delivered to your door
  • Low Carb Program: Digital behaviour change platform for people with type 2 diabetes providing goal-focused education, personalised resources and support to implement a lower carbohydrate lifestyle
  • MIRA Rehab: MIRA’s software turns physical and cognitive exercises into video games, making physiotherapy fun and convenient for patients recovering from surgery or injury