The NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) supports promising innovations to scale across England’s NHS for the benefit of its patients and staff. The accelerator was started in 2015 as an NHS England and NHS Improvement initiative delivered in partnership with the AHSNs and hosted by UCLPartners. It has a unique dual focus on personal development for the individuals (‘Fellows’) as well as bespoke support to spread their innovations.
Over the past six years, the NIA has supported 72 Fellows in their innovation scaling journey. In that time, we’ve seen first-hand the challenges to spreading innovation in the NHS – digital immaturity, perverse financial incentives, and limited capacity in the NHS for adoption to name a few. However, as is widely recognised and championed now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic changed many of these blockers overnight. Innovation quickly became not only beneficial, but essential.
The importance of innovation has never been clearer
At the March 2021 launch event for the NIA’s sixth cohort of Fellows, Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director for NHS England and NHS Improvement and NIA Chair, said: “After a year like no other for the NHS, the importance of innovation has never been clearer. From the way we deliver services to how we support the health and social care workforce, innovation – and the individuals working to drive its implementation – has proven critical to ensuring we remain able to care for NHS patients and staff effectively and efficiently.”
For some of our NIA Fellows, 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 in the Spring of 2020. Incoming messages to ChatHealth, a health messaging platform that provides sexual health, perinatal mental health and young people’s mental health services, increased by 50% nationally during the first lockdown.
For others, as demand for their 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.
- Safe Steps, which offers digital falls assessments, rebuilt its platform in partnership with Health Innovation Manchester to offer a digital assessment dashboard to assess coronavirus risk in care homes.
- QbTest, a tool used to speed up the diagnosis of ADHD and forms part of the AHSN Network Focus ADHD national programme, developed a novel at-home version that can be carried out by parents or carers.
- Locum’s Nest, a platform that matches locum staff with vacant work, developed a coronavirus dashboard that was offered for free to all NHS partners.
NHS adopted and award-winning innovations
It was through this hard work and persistence that the 34 innovators supported by the NIA during 2020/21 were able to accomplish such notable achievements as:
- 323 NHS sites taking up NIA innovations
- 22 award wins and 2 innovations recognised as TechForce19 winning solutions
- £31.6 million raised in external funding
- 323 new jobs created.