There are a lot of people talking and even preaching about NHS innovation, but not enough people doing it, and plenty of other people saying it can’t be done. The NHS Mandate released last month has a lot of talk about ‘Freeing the NHS to Innovate’, but little substance to its appeals for cutting edge applications.
It is the clinicians who have the wherewithal to know not only how to innovate but where in the country requires it. A dietician who develops a revolutionary application of telehealth to fight undernutrition, a problem that affects three million adults in the UK, is in a better position to know what it is that the patients need than the bureaucrats.
There is a problem with the bureaucratic behemoth that is the NHS. During the election, a lot was made of the need to cut the administration costs of the NHS, with the Conservatives promising to ‘cut NHS administration costs by a third.’ However, this has proved more difficult than thought, with cuts to front line services appearing up and down the country.
There are many self-imposed obstacles within the NHS which stifle innovation. One of the biggest ones are procurement rules frameworks that prevents the NHS working with smaller, creative, commercial organisations that can help NHS staff realise their potential but may not be on an approved framework. Worse still, some frameworks can be closed for many months, even years, to new entrants. Innovation needs a free marketplace which can connect potential consumers of a service with the providers – inventors cannot continue to invent if no-one can buy their ideas. The free market can be used to make the NHS more cost effective and can foster innovation through competition.
The other major obstacle to innovation is proprietary IT systems, and the IT industry are mostly to blame here. There are too many incumbent commercial providers to the NHS who want to keep the status quo. How can a clinician develop an innovative service if all the patient data they need is locked inside a primary care software platform where the vendor will not provide open access to it? Or maybe a telehealth hardware vendor that will not allow a 3rd party to access the information from their telehealth hubs to develop a new service? The NHS should mandate all its IT providers to be open and interoperate or ‘agnostic’, and not allow them to hide behind IG rules – it cannot be in the patient’s interest that these healthcare suppliers do not want to work with other companies. Commercial organisations realised many years ago that open international standards that allow information to flow freely was the best possible enabler for innovation; the Internet and world wide web are probably two of the best examples.
In spite of this, as a relatively new entrant to the healthcare market, we have proven you can still make great progress. We believe passionately in innovation within the NHS. We are already working with many clinical teams to help them develop innovative care services that they can then provide to other NHS organisations. We provide the platform and technical infrastructure to do it, they provide the ideas and clinical expertise. It’s a great example of commercial and NHS organisations working together to the mutual benefit of both.
There is no point paying too much attention to those who talk down the ability innovate within the NHS, or who say it will take many years to achieve. As James Baldwin famously once said, “those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it”.