The age of innovation

Source: NHE July/August 2018

Dr Liz Mear, chief executive of the Innovation Agency, explains how her organisation has been enabling innovation across the NHS and what we need to do to ensure this continues. 

Sometimes an offer seems too good to be true; that may seem to be the case for a set of innovations being provided for free to health providers across England. But there’s no catch in this particular offer – four health products which will improve care for patients and reduce costs for providers.

It’s through NHS England’s Innovation and Technology Payment programme, which funds ‘real-world’ evaluation and covers the costs of four products, to overcome financial barriers and encourage speedy uptake across the country. This follows hot on the heels of the Innovation and Technology Tariff, launched last year and live till next March – offering seven other innovations for free.

Of course, it’s not as simple as it sounds to give away health technologies. There is effort involved in considering the new product and how it will impact on practice: will it require staff training or at least a level of buy-in? Changes in process or pathway? Hassle for the procurement and finance teams?

That’s where we come in, at the Innovation Agency and our fellow Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).

We know that even when new products are free, there are reasons why health providers struggle to introduce them. Some of these are outlined very clearly in The King’s Fund report ‘Adoption and spread of innovation in the NHS,’ which draws lessons from eight innovations which have overcome obstacles to be successfully adopted in the NHS.

Our role at the Innovation Agency and our fellow AHSNs is to help trusts and commissioners overcome the barriers. We channel the latest national initiatives, funding opportunities and evidence of best practice through to our local stakeholders and help them navigate an often confusing landscape.

This role has been given a huge boost with additional funding for AHSNs from the Office for Life Sciences, which is enabling us to provide Innovation Exchanges across our network. 

The idea is that we will offer a single gateway for innovators with proven products/systems, and a streamlined process for health and care professionals to express their needs. This will be a national information exchange of demand and supply to bring the public and private sectors together to improve health and care. 

As this work is already underway on a regional basis within AHSNs, the next step of creating a coordinated, single front door is a logical progression for us. We are excited about the opportunities it will bring for us and our partners – and for the patients and population who will benefit. Watch out for more news on this in the coming months.

In the meantime, do check out the products covered by the Innovation and Technology Payment: 

  • HeartFlow: advanced image analysis software that creates a 3D model of the coronary arteries and analyses the impact that blockages have on blood flow to rapidly diagnose patients with suspected coronary artery disease;
  • Plus Sutures: a new type of surgical suture that reduces the rate of surgery-linked infections such as MRSA through the use of antimicrobial suture packs;
  • Endocuff Vision: a new type of ‘bowel scope’ that improves colorectal examination for patients undergoing bowel cancer tests;
  • SecurAcath: a device to secure catheters that reduces the infection risk for patients with a peripherally inserted central catheter.

To support partners in our north west coast region, we have established a Coaching Academy, delivering coaching in innovation implementation. We also have a transformation team who work with our regional transformation partnerships and individual provider trusts to help them overcome any barriers, so they don’t miss out on great opportunities like this. 

There is similar support provided at our 14 fellow AHSNs – we are all raring to go with this programme so that patients receive the benefits of well-proven innovations as soon as possible.


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