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Guest blog by Laura Boyd, NHS Innovation Accelerator Programme Manager.

There is a frequently quoted statistic that it takes, on average, 17 years for an innovation to be spread widely across the health system.

Now, patience is not one of my strengths, but 17 years is simply too long. It means people who could be supported by some of the amazing advances being made in healthcare, aren’t. Take for example, my Grandfather, who could absolutely benefit from some of the many innovations I’ve seen. He’s 87, and unlikely to have 17 years left.

The NHS Innovation Accelerator supports evidence-based innovations to spread more quickly.

This is one of the reasons I chose to work on the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), which supports evidence-based innovations to spread for greater patient and population benefit. An NHS England initiative delivered in partnership with the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), the NIA supported 17 high impact innovations in its first year, and has since grown to support 36 Fellows representing 37 innovations.

The NIA supports a breadth of innovations - patient safety devices, digital innovations, models of care and workforce training - led by a diverse set of individuals (’Fellows’) from clinicians to academics, business bods to former patients identifying better ways of doing things.

The second reason I joined the NIA was because I was really excited by its aim to capture learnings from the experiences of the Fellows as to what helps and hinders the uptake of innovation across the NHS. 

Using the Fellows as real-world case studies, we can highlight - and solve - the barriers to innovation spread.

The idea being that by shining a light on some of the challenges, we can work with policy makers to unlock those barriers - and make it easier for innovation to spread so patients benefit faster.

The NIA is fortunate to have an independent evaluation of its first year, undertaken by the Institute of Employment Studies with York Health Economics Consortium, and funded by the Health Foundation. 

The report identifies the positive impact that the NIA has made on the Fellows, and the fantastic impact their innovations have had on delivering better patient outcomes at reduced cost.

The report also identifies some of the common conditions required to spread innovation.

The key enabler to spread is patient involvement.

Whilst this should come as no surprise to us - after all, any corporate developing a new product would absolutely have the consumer at the forefront of their development and market testing - what really surprised me was the breadth and extent of ways in which patient involvement helped to accelerate the spread of the innovations.

Four ways were identified:

  1. In the development of the innovation itself.
  2. In keeping the innovator motivated and inspired when times were tough and the journey to achieving spread was challenging. I remember Peter Young, the Fellow with the PneuX pneumonia prevention system returning from presenting at a citizen senate and being overwhelmingly touched and inspired by the positive response he received.
  3. In laying the groundwork for the innovations to be well received. The fact that so many of us are now confident in banking/emailing etc. from our mobile devices, means patients are receptive to apps/health information delivered through their phones.
  4. In demanding the innovation be made available through the NHS e.g. the AliveCor Kardia, a mobile ECG that instantly analyses and interprets heart recordings, identifying atrial fibrillation (a leading cause of stroke), has chosen to make the innovation directly available to patients to demonstrate the popularity of the device.

Much is written and talked about the importance of patient involvement - some of it more meaningful than others. I want to raise the profile of the necessity of patient involvement – to drive down that 17 year gap, and drive up better patient outcomes for everyone more quickly, and so that people, like my Grandfather, benefit now.

You can find out more about NHS Innovation Accelerator here and follow @NHSAccelerator on Twitter for news and updates.