NHS attitudes to innovation need to be shaken up so that new ideas can be implemented, tested and shared effectively, health minister Lord Darzi believes.
Speaking exclusively to GP as he launched the £220 million 'Innovation for a healthier future' initiative, he said that changing attitudes to innovation in primary care, and the wider NHS, would require new funding, policy changes and improved leadership.
Perhaps to demonstrate the scheme's seriousness, the DoH has created a legal duty for SHAs to promote innovation within their organisations.
Primary care services will, Lord Darzi argues, offer some of the best opportunities for the NHS to use the new funding to improve patient care.
'I know there are many innovators in primary care and I think we need to help change what I've been describing as the "innovation ecosystem" in the NHS - that part is extremely important,' he says.
For example, he believes that in primary care, projects could look at improving information transfer between primary and secondary care. 'That is a fantastic example where people can put their minds to it and think out of the box,' he said.
Although funding and support for policy changes to lay the groundwork for innovation will come from the centre, Lord Darzi believes that the ideas themselves must come from front-line NHS staff.
'It's not for me to come up with a list of suggested services - the people who provide the service are the ones who know best,' he says.
'We have 1.2 million people who work in the NHS who are extremely gifted individuals and all could bring something new, something creative into the NHS,' he adds. 'What we are saying is that we will facilitate that and if it's a serious breakthrough or an invention, we will incentivise and support that.'
The responsibility for ensuring innovation is promoted will lie with SHAs, which will have to respond to local needs. Promotion of innovation should, the DoH believes, involve consultation with patients, carers and the public.
Each of the 10 SHAs in England will be given an equal share of the £220 million innovation fund. SHAs will decide themselves how to allocate the money within their region.
Lord Darzi explained that it would be made clear to SHAs that the DoH takes their role in promoting innovation seriously. 'Besides the money we are giving SHAs, we're also putting very clear messages there that they have to support innovation, that SHAs will have a legal duty when it comes to promoting innovation.'
SHAs will have to create the right context and reinforce the right leadership behaviours to stimulate leadership in front-line organisations.
They will have to produce an annual innovation report setting out what progress has been made on innovation, what resources have been invested and what the impact has been for patients, staff and NHS organisations.
Evaluation of how innovation is introduced will be crucial, Lord Darzi stressed.
'We have to have proper ways of evaluating what is innovative and what is what we are doing everyday,' he said.
'We have to have proper people who know about innovation appraising these schemes.'
The DoH will therefore be supporting SHAs, he said, and working with National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and other organisations with expertise in supporting and assessing innovation.
Measures of innovation were already widely in use elsewhere, he pointed out.
'There are many indicators we can use to see how innovation is being adopted and diffused,' he said. 'In the commercial sector, if you go to IBM, it has 20 indicators that measure its innovation on a monthly basis.'
Besides the £220 million regional innovation funds and the new legal duty on SHAs to promote innovation, the 'Innovation for a healthier future' initiative also includes 'innovation challenge' prizes, worth a total of £20 million.
The 'innovation challenge' prizes will require staff to tackle issues facing the population including child obesity, Alzheimer's disease and COPD. An expert panel will draw up a shortlist of issues that the challenge prize will target. Members of the public will then be consulted on the final list of prizes which will be announced later this year.
As the health service comes to terms with working with smaller funding increases, effective sharing of innovative working practice will help the NHS work effectively to provide evidence-based care, Lord Darzi stressed.
'Although these are difficult times, quality and doing something right the first time around saves a lot of both financial and emotional effort for both the clinician and the patient. Never underestimate the role of innovation in that,' he said.
Innovation for a healthier future
- Regional innovation funds: £220 million shared equally among England's 10 SHAs.
- 'Innovation challenge' prizes: £20 million to be awarded for initiatives tackling specific problems. The challenges will be announced later this year.
- SHAs will have a legal duty to aid innovation. SHAs will have to create the right context and reinforce the right behaviour to stimulate leadership in front-line organisations.
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