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Ask the experts: Overclocking innovation in the NHS

This year, UK Health Show at Excel brought together an expert panel to focus on ‘Overclocking innovation in the NHS.’

But it wasn’t your ordinary panel, which can typically leave you feeling deflated with the insurmountable challenge ahead. The panel was made up of people that are already finding unique ways and creative thinking, to make change and innovation happen.

A prime example was Lawrence Petalidis, Head of Innovation for CW+, the health charity for Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, who has led a revolutionary approach to a strategic research agreement for clinical AI.

A new partnership between healthcare technology company Sensyne and the NHS has created an entirely new business model whereby the company uses AI to analyse health data, garnering insights that may allow the pharmaceutical industry to develop new treatments.

He talked about how three health trusts (including CW) will receive £5m worth of shares in Sensyne and a royalty on any products developed using their data. Participating hospitals will eventually own about 10 percent of the equity.

So what is the panel’s take on what exactly will speed-up innovation in the NHS?

Relevance – focus on the big issues.

For Petalidis “It’s all about relevance.” He highlighted that only if digital health can pragmatically address major challenges of our time (such as cancer, diabetes, dementia and obesity) shall innovation be sustained and meaningful.  Any solutions that can tackle such key areas are welcomed and probably adopted at a faster pace than others (something that is echoed in the NHS Innovation Accelerator Schemes).

Stop putting lipstick on a pig

However, Tracey Watson, Director of Innovation and Partnerships for NHS Digital (and a Silver Buccaneer), took a different steer and advocated making sure the NHS gets focuses on the fundamentals. “Innovation to me, is getting the basics right first and you can’t put lipstick on a pig and we need to get the infrastructure and data right and that means data quality, access and interoperability.” She also highlighted the importance of making sure that suppliers have a strong evidence base although she argued that the current approach to evidence has become ‘old fashioned’ and that that is being looked at.

Create space to think about innovation

But how can the NHS itself embrace and speed-up innovation? There are few who are better placed to answer that question than Tara Donnelly, panellist number three and CEO of Health Innovation Network, which speeds up the best in health and care across South London together with its members.

“Staff need to have the headspace to do the thinking and they are getting less and less time to do that,” she said, adding that 80% of ‘Outstanding’ trusts have improvement methodology that staff are bought into, understand and ultimately adhere to.

Look for commercially minded talent

On the flipside, Petalidis advocated getting more business and industry experienced people involved in NHS transformation and innovation. He used the analogy that we  “don’t ask aeroplane pilots to manage or transform airports” and therefore perhaps clinical professionals, who are at the heart of the NHS, need broad, local and dedicated support in making innovation happen and to enable them to combine change with doing what they do best – saving lives.

Stop chopping and changing

The final panellist was Beverley Bryant, who’s experience spans both public and private digital health with her former role as Director of Digital Technology at NHS England and current role as Chief Operating Officer at System C. She pleaded with the centre to refrain from stopping, starting and changing direction. She said “Just as something starts to work in the NHS and we start to see real, measurable benefits, policy changes, we change the system or rename it. We need to give these things more time.”

Share your thoughts on creative ways to speed up innovation with @SarahBruceUK