Embracing innovation in general practice

Innovation is the key to making ‘every pound go further’ in the NHS, says health secretary Matt Hancock. A new report – published by the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) – sets out a roadmap for successful innovation in the health service

The introduction of new technology in the NHS is ‘iterative’ and ‘non-linear’, claims the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA). In a detailed investigation into the 13 innovation projects it has supported, the NIA researchers conclude that, while new schemes can be successful locally, too often organisations fail to capture the insights and strategies that have worked, meaning other parts of the NHS are unable to replicate this success.

The NIA is a joint initiative that brings together all 15 of England’s Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). Launched in 2015 to support the delivery of the Five Year Forward View, NHS England describes it as existing to accelerate the uptake of, ‘high-impact innovations for patient, population and NHS staff benefit.”

NIA projects include the development of a new scarred liver pathway, a cloud-based tool called Lantum which allows NHS providers to build virtual clinical staff banks and DrDoctor, an online and SMS system that enables patients to manage their own hospital appointments.

Crucially, the NIA records not only the impact of these new innovations but also the process of innovation itself. Every project is led by a Fellow, whose role it is to document and record the process, sharing this knowledge with the community to improve innovation across the NHS.

In the report, developed in partnership with The Bayswater Institute, the NIA lays out a detailed, and academically rigorous, blueprint for successful innovation in the NHS. The report identifies common tasks for innovators, including the need for users to get to know the innovation, build a case for its adoption, record the adaption needed to make the innovation work and to follow an emergent strategy to embed new technologies within existing workflows.

Innovation road map

Launching the report, the recently appointed health secretary described how innovation is part of a ‘long-term plan’ for the NHS. Outlining his ‘tech vision’ for the NHS, Matt Hancock describes the need to, ‘build an ecosystem of enterprise and innovation to allow new projects to flourish.’

The authors of the report, Professor Stephen Powis and Dr Sam Roberts, share Matt Hancock’s enthusiasm, but caution that there is a ‘complex range of challenges’ that often conspire to stifle innovation.

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The report contains some practical tips for NHS innovators and would-be entrepreneurs – and also for those on the frontline who are charged with implementing new technologies.

Top ten tips for innovators

  1. Map the adopter network early and comprehensively for each new NHS organisation you are working with.
  2. Differentiate the unique and generalisable features of the negotiation between the innovation and the organisational context (negotiation space) and communicate common adoption tasks to the impacted stakeholders as early as possible.
  3. Understand the pull factors for the adopter organisation and how these can be matched to available push factors.
  4. Capture the learning from the negotiation between the organisational context and the innovation to support other adoption journeys.
  5. Accept that the adoption process will be iterative, non-linear and uneven in progress.
  6. Tailor training and support for adopting organisations, appreciating different organisational contexts.
  7. Work with the adopting organisation to help with business case development, and plan for sustainability from the outset.
  8. Base an initial roadmap on the experience of the unique and generalisable learning obtained from previous adoptions, linking this to a potential sustainability plan.
  9. Communicate often, clearly and openly.
  10. Be realistic about timescales and availability of resources to iterate and embed the innovation.

Top ten tips for adopters

  1. Dedicate resources to engage the wide range of staff who will be involved in implementing the innovation and supporting the innovator.
  2. Engage with the push factors to clearly understand the available data, and materials available, to support adoption.
  3. Review and free-up the necessary organisational capabilities to engage with, and implement, the innovation.
  4. Explore the experiences of other organisations in adopting the innovation.
  5. Accept that the adoption process will be iterative, non-linear and uneven in progress.
  6. Plan for widespread engagement and training within the adoption network.
  7. Develop the local business case, and plan for sustainability from the outset.
  8. Work with the innovator in evolving the specific roadmap for the organisational context of the adopter network, linking this to a potential sustainability plan.
  9. Communicate often, clearly and openly.
  10. Be realistic about timescales and availability of resources to shape and implement the innovation.

You can read a full copy of the report online.

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