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NHS Expo 2019: Innovation will be key to delivering on the Long-Term Plan objectives

NHS Expo 2019: Innovation will be key to delivering on the Long-Term Plan objectives

Daniel Laing, Political Consultant | Dods Monitoring

5 min read

Dods Monitoring's Daniel Laing considers the key messages from the NHS Expo 2019 - arguing the next important step will be reframing the cultural approach of the NHS towards technology.

The NHS Innovation Expo in Manchester this year was an embodiment of the relationship between the health sector and Government. While NHS leaders discussed the challenges to innovation in the NHS, delegates were acutely aware that Westminster was still stuck on Brexit. The fact the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, was unable to attend to deliver the keynote speech demonstrated this in action.

New innovations

New innovations in the NHS must provide a “narrative”, outlining how they help patients and address other core NHS priorities to drive successfully scale up.

This objective of the NHS Long Term (LTP) plan was the message of the first NHS Innovation Expo since the LTP’s publication.

The NHS Expo event included action points for academics, the NHS and Government on how innovation will feed into new service models. Unquestionably, digital innovations come under a closer scrutiny from patients compared to human counterparts. The next important steps will be reframing the cultural approach of the NHS towards technology and putting incentives as the heart of workforce planning.  

The opening session of Expo backed up this message.

Baroness Dido Harding, Chair, NHS Improvement, focused her contribution on improving diversity in the workforce and how the intersection between technology and culture was the sweet spot for innovation. The same speech saw Lord Prior, Chair, NHS England, tout the NHS as the most inclusive institution in the country and talk up the role of technological advances in bridging health inequality gaps. New perspectives on innovation are therefore essential and could include areas like adaptive technology for staff as well as patient treatments. Furthermore, if a shift in emphasis from hard targets to achieving more healthy population years is the destination then innovation will be the driving force.

Innovations with a strong narrative win out

The potential for innovations to transform NHS services are huge but the timeline for getting them into the hands of nurses and doctors remains too long. As the innovation buzz words become frequent in use, the role of the NHSX in sifting out the true examples of artificial intelligence and genomics will be key.

The new Accelerated Access Collaboratives have demonstrated progress removing barriers for innovators. Progress has been made on delivering a 15 strong AHSN (Academic Health Science Networks) to support innovators but NHS and regulator structures still require improvement. Innovators require a strong narrative which champions the experiences of patient groups delivered by strong communications teams is important to “win hearts” and drive scale up.

As wearable technology and artificial technology begin to make their way into the health sphere a proper regulator framework will be needed. The forthcoming NICE guidance for digital technologies will be an important first step for standardizing new products. Incentivizing the adoption of technologies remains a challenge under current success metrics. Consequently, the upcoming review of NHS targets could prove a watershed moment on the future of how the NHS measures its own success. 

Research is changing and could see closer linkages with trade

A hunger to see better interactions between universities and businesses on promoting innovation and scaling research has been growing. A focus on delivering impact by researchers would be beneficial to both the economy and the NHS. However, this would require bringing Parliament and Government together with innovators to reframe the conversation around innovation.

The key challenges will be both structural and cultural. Developing an NHS market that benefits both the economy and patient outcomes under new care models could be an area for the new Government. While a cultural shift which can see the NHS as both an economic driver as well as a national treasure, will be one contentious. The work of HealthcareUK aims to see a reframing of the conversation around innovation and trade. It is here the conversation returns to how the NHS measures its own success. Currently policy drivers for taking products and internationalising them falls short. Senior civil servants and NHS management frame innovation around the initial target, but this system leaves trade potential locked away.

Government shouldn’t take its eye off the ball 

Despite a spending round taking place the multi-year funding settlement for capital investment is yet to materialise and NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, has made no secret of the importance of this funding. It was clear at Expo several solutions to ongoing challenges in social care, public health and workforce should put the NHS at the center.  

Next steps for delivering on innovation

Navigation of the labyrinth of public capital to access R&D funding remains a key challenge for innovators. The potential for research to become stuck at vital road blocks such as clinical trials without academic support and not make it into the hands of patients remains high. The next important step therefore will be a change in attitude towards technology in the workforce.

A delicate debate lies ahead to truly change some of the existing structures that stifle and hold up innovation. Indeed, it does not take much imagination to see the reaction to any Government pose the question, “how can we unlock the monetization potential of innovations within an NHS system?".


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