What is the NHS Innovation Accelerator?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) is a national accelerator commissioned by the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) at NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSE/I). It is delivered in partnership with the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in England and is hosted at UCLPartners.

The NIA supports delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan priorities by accelerating uptake of promising innovations for patient, population and NHS staff benefit, and by providing real time practical insights on spread to inform national strategy. It was launched in 2015 and is chaired by Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director, NHSE/I.

Innovations – and the individuals who represents them as Fellows – are supported by the NIA for up to three years. This support is delivered via a robust learning programme, peer community, mentorship, networking and direct engagement with NHSE/I, the AHSNs and other key scaling partners.

To date, the NIA has supported 82 Fellows to spread in the NHS in England.

Visit our About Us page to learn more.

Why does the NIA have a dual focus on the individual and the innovation?

To successfully spread innovation in the NHS, our experience has found that you need: (1) an inspiring leader who can engage effectively and lead the scaling of a health innovation, and (2) a  great innovation, at the right level of maturity, supported by evidence and the right business model1.

The NIA’s dual focus on personal development for individuals (‘Fellows’) and bespoke support to spread an innovation recognises that both are critical to scaling in the NHS.

What is an NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow?

NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) Fellows are the exceptional individuals being supported to scale their promising innovations through the NIA. Each of these Fellows – along with their innovations – have been through a rigorous, competitive selection process before being invited to join the NIA. 

There are currently 33 Fellows and 49 Alumni on the NIA. 17 were recruited in Year One (2015), 8 in Year Two (2016), 11 in Year Three (2017), 13 in Year Four (2019), 11 in Year Five (2020), 12 in Year Six (2021) and 10 in Year Seven (2022) following successive annual calls.

Fellows come from a wide range of backgrounds, including clinical, industry and academia, and share a passion for learning and scaling innovation for patient benefit. They are committed to sharing their learnings widely via the NIA, and all offer expertise and experience in the adoption, implementation and spread of innovation in the NHS.

Meet our current Fellows.

What support do NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellows receive?

The NIA exists to support the spread of innovations in the NHS in England. However, the NIA cannot offer a guaranteed route to widespread adoption across the NHS, and being on the NIA does not offer preferred supplier status.

The ethos of the NIA is to provide a range of support in response to the needs of each Fellow and the barriers to uptake their innovation faces within the NHS. This includes a bespoke learning programme, mentorship and networking opportunities to equip Fellows with critical knowledge, relationships and skills to scale innovation in the NHS.

Each NIA Fellow is provided with:

  • Access to a pool of mentors
  • Networking opportunities with Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)
  • Quarterly learning events
  • Peer-to-peer support
  • Ad hoc specialist information sessions, as required (e.g. procurement, NHS commissioning, health economics, business case development, media training, etc.)
  • Navigation to existing innovation initiatives locally within AHSNs (e.g. SETsquared) and nationally (e.g. Global Digital Exemplars)

At the end of the initial 12 months, each Fellow should have the following in place, with the help of the NIA:

  • A robust diffusion plan: A critically appraised, robust diffusion plan for the NHS, which they have made progress on implementing (e.g., new contracts signed, resources secured).
  • Expanded networks: Built a network of decision makers, ‘critical friends’ and other key stakeholders.
  • Navigation of innovation opportunities: The ability to navigate innovation initiatives, support infrastructure and national levers.
  • Expanded knowledge: Addressed critical knowledge gaps as agreed with their mentors/lead AHSN/NIA core team at the programme outset.

Visit our Support Offered page for more detail.

What is the role of the NHS Innovation Accelerator core team?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) core team, based at UCLPartners, provides coordination, administration and communications support for the Accelerator. This includes: 

  • Working with partner organisations (NHS England, AHSNs) and supporting organisations (The Health Foundation, NHSX, Department of Health and Social Care, Healthcare UK) to optimise the value of the NIA for Fellows and the wider NHS. 
  • Administering the recruitment, selection and contracting process of the NIA Fellows
  • Coordinating the annual summit and launch events, quarterly events, and additional learning sessions
  • Connecting Fellows to Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and Mentor support
  • Supporting Fellows to develop action and sprint plans
  • Identifying and meeting any gaps in the support package offered to Fellows
  • Providing secretariat for the NIA Programme Board and NIA Operational Group
  • Engaging with NHS England to optimise opportunities for the Fellows and to address systemic barriers
  • Coordinate and manage communication and engagement activities to support NIA aims
  • Providing day-to-day support to the Fellows
How long can Fellows access support from the NIA?

Fellows can access support from the NIA for up to 3 years, after which they will be offered the opportunity to become an NIA Alumni.

Is there ever a circumstance where a Fellow could be asked to leave the NHS Innovation Accelerator?

The bar for NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) Fellows and innovations is high.

All Fellows are required to demonstrate full participation in the NIA, with a consequence of exiting the programme if requirements are not met. Expectations of Fellows are detailed in the Call for Applications and the contract that Fellows, along with their organisations, are required to sign to formally join the NIA. As part of this commitment, Fellows agree to spend two days per week on the NIA, attend the launch and four quarterly events, and submit progress reports. At the start of the NIA, they will develop and agree a scaling plan with the NIA core team. As part of this, Fellows agree a minimum set of activities they will deliver during the first 12 months on the accelerator.

Fellows may be asked to leave the NIA in the event that they:

  • Break any condition in the NIA contract.
  • Do not adhere to the NIA code of conduct.
  • Are unable to attend the launch and/or quarterly events.
  • Do not deliver on agreed activities during the course of the programme.
  • Behave in a manner unacceptable to the NIA and its ethos.
What if a Fellow wishes to resign from the NIA?

If a Fellow is no longer able to maintain their commitment to the NIA, for example if they are no longer working for the company supporting their innovation, they are able to put forward a replacement candidate, who will then go through a formal application process. Replacement Fellows are carefully assessed and must attend an interview with NIA stakeholders before a recommendation is ratified by the NIA programme board.

If for any reason a Fellow is no longer able to participate in the NIA and does not wish to be replaced, they are offered the opportunity to become an Alumni early.

Who can apply to the NHS Innovation Accelerator?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) is open to innovations of all types, from the UK or elsewhere, and innovators from any background. Innovations should be able to demonstrate an evidence base from real-world use and should align with one of the stated annual recruitment themes.

Applicants can be clinicians, academics, from a public-sector, charitable or not-for-profit organisation, from a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), or from a large corporate. You can be the inventor of the innovation, the lead for it within your organisation or simply the representative of an innovation you find compelling, and as such, wish to scale it across the NHS.

To apply, you should be able demonstrate the following:

  • Significant outcomes for significantly lower cost
  • An evidence-base for your innovation that shows it is ready to be diffused across the NHS
  • A personal set of strong values as well as a passion for learning and sharing your insight widely
  • A commitment to scaling evidence-based innovations for patient and population benefit
  • A commitment to understanding health inequalities and to improving equity of access, experience and outcomes through innovation.

Innovators from all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds are encouraged to apply for our accelerator.

How do I apply for the NHS Innovation Accelerator?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) holds an annual international call for applicants, typically launching in September. Visit our Apply page for the most up-to-date information.

When the NIA call opens, applicants are asked to submit an online application form detailing information about themselves and their skills, experience and competencies to spread an innovation; as well as their innovation, the problem it addresses, the evidence as to its effectiveness and their strategy for scaling in the NHS.

What is the assessment process for NHS Innovation Accelerator applicants?

When submitted, application forms are reviewed by a minimum of five assessors drawn from a range of perspectives including clinical, patient, commercial and implementation. Applications are assessed on the basis of the applicant, the innovation, and confirmation that there is no straightforward or obvious local mechanism for scaling; in other words, there needs to be a clear reason as to why the applicant needs the support of the NIA.

Once shortlisted, applicants are invited to a panel interview. At the same time, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) informally reviews all shortlisted applications. After the interviews, a final decision panel chaired by Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director at NHS England and NHS Improvement, and Chair of the NIA Programme Board, reviews the recommendations from the assessment process (application, NICE review and interview) to agree which applicants will be offered a conditional place on the NIA.

At this stage, two references are requested for each Fellow – one of whom needs to be a senior representative from the Fellow’s employing organisation; the other should be from a healthcare provider/ commissioner site where your innovation is currently in use (this does not need to be an NHS site). We also undertake a period of due diligence, and request – where relevant – two years of annual accounts, a list of company directors and published annual reports. All Fellows will be asked to sign an agreement with UCLPartners (who host the NIA) before being formally announced as an NIA Fellow. An example contract will be available on the application page of the NIA website when the Call is launched. Applicants should check that they and their employing organisation would be happy to sign this contract before applying.

What is an NHS Innovation Accelerator Mentor?

The expert, high-profile Mentors who work with the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) represent a broad skills base. Their support is predominantly in the form of advice, guidance and networking. Our pool of Mentors is regularly expanded to support the experiences and identified needs of the Fellows.

Meet our current Mentors.

If you are interested in becoming an NIA Mentor, email us at nia@uclpartners.com.

How is the NHS Innovation Accelerator different from other accelerators and initiatives?

The following characteristics set the NHS Innovation Accelerator apart from other accelerators and initiatives:

  • The NIA places a dual focus on both personal development for individuals (‘Fellows’) and bespoke support to spread an innovation.
  • It is open to all types of innovation (including digital, medtech, workforce and models of care) and supports individuals from any type of professional background from anywhere in the world, as long as they are looking to scale in England’s NHS.
  • The NIA supports innovations that are already in use in at least one site which are able to demonstrate positive impact. The NIA does not support start-up or early-stage innovations.
  • It is a national accelerator for innovations that are ready to spread widely.

The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator and AHSN regional digital health accelerators work with earlier stage companies who would benefit from closer working with the NHS in a specific locality, for example, to trial products or build their evidence base. Unlike the NIA, these initiatives focus solely on digital solutions, and aim to support the company as opposed to the individual and innovation.

The SBRI Healthcare programme provides funding to develop innovations that meet the challenges facing the English healthcare system. NIA Fellows in the past have successfully applied to receive funding from the SBRI.

The UCLPartners’ Innovation Fellowship (IF) focuses on companies that are at a stage earlier in the pipeline than the NIA will support. Applicants to UCLPartners will need to be at the proof-of-concept stage whereas the NIA recruits innovations that are already in use and have an evidence base. UCLPartners IF is only open to NHS clinicians and NHS staff working within North Central London, North East London or Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Systems; NIA Fellows can come from any organisation.

The Clinical Entrepreneur training programme is specifically for clinicians and is designed to offer opportunities for clinicians to develop their entrepreneurial aspirations during their clinical training period.

How is the NHS Innovation Accelerator funded?

The NIA is commissioned by the Accelerator Access Collaborative at NHS England and NHS Improvement and is delivered by England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). Each of these partners provides funding for the NIA.

Find out more about our partners.

How does the NHS Innovation Accelerator align with the work of the Academic Health Science Networks?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) supports the spread of high impact innovations for the benefit of patients and the NHS. It is delivered in partnership with all 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), hosted at UCLPartners. 

The NIA aligns with and contributes to AHSN delivery on a local level and as a national network in the following ways:

Economic growth and innovation exchanges: NIA Fellows contribute to AHSN national targets for economic growth, including investment leveraged, exports and number of jobs created. Their respective products, devices and technologies undertake a rigorous multi-stage assessment process before being selected to join the NIA, helping to ‘de-risk’ these innovations and provide assurances for local and national Innovation Exchanges.

Breadth of innovations rigorously selected to address local needs and national priorities: The NIA is open to all types of innovation, seeking to identify evidence-based solutions for local or national spread. These include platforms to support medicines optimisation, patient safety devices, genomics and diagnostic related innovations, medtech, digital innovations, AI, and new care models and pathways.

Research on NIA innovations and to understand adoption and spread: The NIA’s evaluation stream is helping to broker real-world validation using insight, learning and experience from the Fellows and adoption sites. Year One’s research (2015/16) evidenced some of the common conditions for success in innovation scaling, whilst the Year Three evaluation (Understanding how and why the NHS adopts innovation, 2017/18) examined how NHS sites successfully take up NIA innovations for greater patient and staff benefit. Our 2020 research in partnership with the Nuffield Trust (Achieving scale and spread: Learning for innovators and policy-makers) looked at what needs to happen for innovation to achieve scale, particularly for later stage adopters.

In 2021, we commissioned the Centre for Healthcare Innovation Research – City, University London to develop a set of reports on health inequalities and innovation. The first, Key areas for targeting innovations to tackle health inequalities in the English NHS, was published in May 2021. The second, Needs and strategies targeting health inequalities in the adoption and spread of healthcare innovations – a rapid scoping review, was published in September 2021.

Further learning is shared through our quarterly INSIGHTS newsletter which features the latest blogs and news from the NIA and our Fellows.

Fellows are also supported to strengthen their existing evidence base through links with the AHSNs, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) infrastructure (including Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care – CLAHRCs), building an understanding of what research and evidence is most useful to de-risk and spread their innovation.

Accelerating spread through integration with other national programmes: The NIA supports selected innovations to become ready for acceptance onto relevant national initiatives. This includes evidence refinement, business model development and preparing implementation toolkits. 

One of the 11 AHSN Network national programmes – QbTest – continues to access support through the NIA. A further four programmes previously supported as national programmes are NIA Alumni: ESCAPE-pain, FREED, Serenity Integrated Monitoring and AliveCor Kardia.

How are the innovations on the NHS Innovation Accelerator adopted?

The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) does not offer a guaranteed route to widespread adoption across the NHS. Being on the NIA does not offer preferred supplier status.

All NHS sites remain accountable for their decisions and care provision/ safety, and as such undertake their own scrutiny of NIA innovations before they decide through their local governance structures whether to use them or not. The NIA does not seek to duplicate, circumvent or replace these local decision making processes. NHS sites are not mandated to take up NIA innovations.

The NIA does not perform independent scrutiny of the evidence base put forward by the applicant.

I do not think the NHS Innovation Accelerator is right for me. Where else can I go for support for my innovation?

The Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) are uniquely placed to identify and spread health innovation at pace and scale; driving the adoption and spread of innovative ideas and technologies across large populations. There are 15 across the country and these should be your first port of call for support with your innovation.

Visit the AHSN Network Innovation Exchange for more information and contact details.