This blog was originally published by the AHSN Network on 27 August 2020.

Following the recent release of Simon Stevens’ letter addressing the third phase of NHS response to COVID-19, NHS Innovation Accelerator  (NIA) Deputy Director, Laura Boyd, reflects on the opportunities for innovation.

I have had the enormous privilege of supporting NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) Fellows and their innovations since 2015 when the NIA launched.

The challenges to spreading an innovation in the NHS are well documented and working with some of our brave and courageous individuals – and I call them that having witnessed the slog it takes to spread innovation – has opened my eyes to some of those persistent blockers in the system. There are several blogs that could be written on all of these, but they include:

  • Perverse financial incentives
  • Cultural preference for the way we have always done things
  • Digital immaturity

As is widely recognised and championed now, the COVID-19 pandemic changed many of these blockers overnight. For some of the NIA Fellows, the start of the pandemic meant the phone ringing off the hook for their digital transformative innovations that enable remote ways of working. Echo, a digital pharmacy, saw a 250% increase in subscribers since March. Incoming messages to ChatHealth, a health messaging platform, increased by 50% nationally during lockdown.

For others, as demand for their NIA innovations ground to a halt when priorities had to focus elsewhere, the crisis offered an opportunity to pivot and adapt. True to their entrepreneurial selves, we saw the NIA innovators use their knowledge and expertise to help the NHS.

For example,

  • Safe Steps, which offers digital falls assessments, rebuilt its platform in partnership with Health Innovation Manchester to offer a digital assessment dashboard to assess COVID-19 risk in care homes.
  • QbTest, a tool used to speed up the diagnosis of ADHD, developed a novel at-home version that can be carried out by parents or carers.

At the end of July, Simon Steven’s 3rd letter detailing the priorities for the NHS’ response to COVID-19 was circulated. What struck me was the enormous alignment many of the NIA innovations offer in terms of enabling delivery of these priorities. The added benefit of the NIA is that the Fellows bring with them real-world insight and expertise as to how to implement innovation in the NHS.

Many of our Fellows have shown themselves to be ahead of the curve, their innovations delivering exactly what the NHS needs right now:

  • PrecisionPoint™ transforms prostate biopsies by utilising transperineal biopsies delivering them as outpatient appointment thereby enabling faster, more efficient and safer diagnosis of prostate cancer.
  • Ultramed’s MyPreOp® offers virtual pre-operative assessment for patients preparing for operations thereby supporting the priority to recover the maximum elective capacity available while reducing the need to face-to-face appointments.
  • IEG4’s Digital CHC digitalises the Continuing Healthcare (CHC) process – the letter asks CCGs to resume all Continuing Healthcare assessments
  • Locum’s Nest matches available clinical staff to rota slots and has launched a communications platform so that even bank and temp staff are aware of changes in PPE and other staff related requirements ensuring they are fully prepared before every shift they start.

Whilst we are still uncertain what the next few months (and years) may hold in terms of the pandemic, what I do know is that there are already solutions that are primed and ready to help the NHS as it resets and prepares for the possibility of another surge. The NIA is supporting over 35 evidence-based innovations led by pioneering individuals who are eager to support our healthcare system, its staff and patients.

For a full overview of of NHS Innovation Accelerator innovations and how they address current NHS priorities, visit the new NIA COVID-19 Response site