NHS Innovation Accelerator: a real-world experiment

Source: NHE Sep/Oct 17

Dr Amanda Begley, director of innovation and implementation at UCLPartners, reveals the findings of an independent evaluation assessing the impact of the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA).

As the first initiative of its kind, the NIA can be viewed as a real-world national experiment – one which has facilitated uptake of innovation for patient benefit, saved England’s health and social care system over £12m, and is providing real-time practical insights to inform national strategy. 

The NIA was created to support delivery of the Five Year Forward View (FYFV) by accelerating uptake of high-impact, evidence-based innovations for patient, population and NHS staff benefit. The evaluation of this NHS England initiative – delivered in partnership with England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and hosted at UCLPartners – is to be published at the end of September, following independent research funded by the Health Foundation. 

This evaluation report details the impact the NIA has had on its first cohort of NIA Fellows – the 17 dedicated individuals who joined the accelerator following a rigorous selection process in July 2015 – and on innovation scaling, identifying some of the common factors influencing innovation uptake across the NHS. 

Crucially, evidence of long-term benefits and wider impact demonstrates the difference being made to people’s lives: 

  • Reducing health inequalities from improved access to healthcare
  • Benefits to costs and quality of care through prevention of disease or exacerbation of existing disease
  • Enabling people to function more effectively in their daily lives, and participate more fully in society with less support from external health or social welfare agencies 

Interviews with over 100 stakeholders, including patients and service users, offer fundamental insights to the report. Indeed, patient involvement is identified as a critical success factor for innovation scaling: instrumental in the process of development and user testing; attracting people to participate in trials and testing to develop an evidence base; and acting as champions – advocating the benefits of an innovation and helping to overcome resistance from healthcare professionals. 

As one NIA Fellow highlighted: “Without people who have benefitted, it would just be a group of professionals telling other people that it works and to do it, which really goes against our whole ethos. Patients might be less sure about it, whether it will work, and whether it’s just the latest craze.” 

So how exactly are innovations on the NIA currently impacting patients, local populations and the NHS? 

NIA Fellows, Piers Kotting (second left) and Peter Young (third left) at the 2016 NIA launch event edit

Improved clinical outcomes 

One of the key benefits of NIA innovations is improved clinical outcomes. For example, a clinician implementing myCOPD (a patient self-management system for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) saw almost instant improvements in symptoms among patients using the platform after only a short period due to improved inhaler technique and medication adherence, alongside a decrease in overall disease burden and anxiety amongst patients. 

The use of Episcissors-60 (patented fixed-angle episiotomy scissors) avoided incidence and cost of obstetric anal sphincter injuries (OASIS). An economic analysis demonstrated a net saving of over £28,000 per 1,000 births accrued from avoided cases of OASIS – a potential return on investment of over 3,000% for the NHS. 

Patient empowerment 

NIA innovations focused on self-management demonstrated improved patient empowerment, enabling people to feel more in control of their own health. 

This included examples of people with very poor quality of life, whose health improved sufficiently for them to resume leisure activities. Patients reported that the innovations had a positive impact on their mental health, which was of particular benefit for people with complex, long-term conditions. 

Those using NeuroResponse (an integrated model of care for patients with neurological conditions) reported reduced anxiety and increased confidence to manage their condition, with the model also delivering a reduction in A&E attendances. Clinicians confirmed that patients using OWise, a smart phone app for self-management of breast cancer, were more at ease with treatment and better informed during consultations. 

Opening up access to new forms of support 

Some of the NIA’s digital consumer-facing innovations have helped engage people who might otherwise have shunned healthcare technologies. 

IT platforms, including Patients Know Best (enabling patients to hold all their medical information in a single record) and HealthUnlocked (a peer-to-peer online social support network linking patients, carers and health advocates with professional organisations), reached a wide number of patients who have benefitted from better communication between healthcare professionals and fellow patients, faster processes and accurate recordings of data. 

In the case of Patients Know Best, an economic analysis highlighted £26m cash-releasing savings over five years for NHS trusts with a population of 900,000 patients and average prevalence of long-term conditions. 

Earlier access to drug trials 

Faster diagnosis and access to new treatments is an obvious benefit to patients, and Sapientia (a genome analytics software) has proved especially critical for people experiencing deteriorating health from rare conditions, where they would otherwise commonly wait up to five years for diagnosis. 

Improving access is also true of Join Dementia Research (JDR, a digital platform matching volunteers for dementia research with active studies), with one clinician explaining: “A lady in the north east signed up to JDR, was matched to a trial, and three days later was in London getting a very exciting experimental drug. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for JDR. She lives in a place where there’s no trial activity and she’d never been asked about trials before.”

Health economic impact 

These real-world, real-time impacts of NIA innovations are estimated to have generated savings of over £12m per year to England’s health and social care system – a figure that will inevitably increase as the NIA continues to grow. 

Significantly, the NIA is, through the partnership between NHS England and AHSNs, providing a unified national voice to articulate challenges in innovation scaling. And more importantly, it’s working in unison with national bodies to help address these, so that high-impact innovations reach the hands of those who need them – patients, populations and NHS staff. 

The NIA will unveil the Fellows and innovations selected to join the accelerator in its third year in November. The 2017 NIA cohort bring high-impact, evidence-based innovations which address the following NHS priorities: mental health, urgent and emergency care, and primary care.

NIA Fellows Piers Kotting (centre) and Peter Young (right) at the 2016 NIA launch event


To download the NIA evaluation report, visit:



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