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The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a progressive policy think tank, has published a new report exploring the use and spread of innovation within the NHS.

Entitled ‘The innovation lottery: Upgrading the spread of innovation in the NHS’, the report suggests that the UK could save around 20,000 avoidable deaths every year, if the UK’s healthcare innovation matched the performance of other countries.

The challenge, says IPPR, is to spread healthcare invention within the NHS quickly and consistently. According to the report, despite a good track record for healthcare innovation, the UK has struggled to provide quick, equitable access to new innovations. Sometimes referred to as a “postcode lottery”, this inconsistency has slowed the NHS’ ability to achieve the best possible health and wellbeing outcomes.

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In the new report, the think tank makes various suggestions as to how the NHS can spread innovation in order to achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes within the UK.

According to the analysis, healthcare innovation within the NHS could save around 20,000 avoidable deaths every year in the UK. The report adds that better access to treatments, care models and technologies could also save the UK around £10 billion from reduced costs related to health, social care and unpaid care.

Additionally, the think tank notes that health innovation within the UK has largely focused on what national bodies can do to make innovations more accessible and affordable for the system, but that less has been done to empower frontline NHS staff, who are expected to understand, implement and champion innovations in practice.

The IPPR suggests that the UK Government should invest in NHS capacity itself, as more ambition from NHS staff to spread innovation could help ease pressure off the entire health system.

Gathering insights from frontline NHS staff, IPPR’s research has highlighted three thematic barriers to adopting and spreading healthcare innovation, which it says should be addressed as immediate priorities.

The three barriers are:

  1. A risk-averse culture, driven by the approach to performance management and focus on short-term targets.
  2. The sheer complexity of the NHS, coupled with a lack of networks, creating a ‘not invented here culture.
  3. A lack of resource, including a lack of financial support.

However, throughout the coronavirus crisis, a lot of healthcare innovation has been seen throughout the UK, with many GPs offering virtual consultations for patients. The IPPR says that with clearly defined goals and an ambition to drive innovation, the NHS can achieve and spread healthcare innovation.

“It is important that lessons like this from Covid-19 are reflected in how we approach the adoption and spread of innovation going forward,” the report stresses.

To ensure innovation transformation, the think tank recommends two key shifts in policy: make minimum standards, accountability, roles and regulations clear within the NHS; and provide more active support for local providers and commissioners.

Make minimum standards, accountability, roles and regulations clear within the NHS

The Institute for Public Policy Research says this will provide a predictable framework for innovation, give permission to spread healthcare innovation, and give commissioners, practitioners and providers a clear direction on how to implement innovation.

Within this policy shift, the think tank recommends that NHS England publishes National Service Frameworks and set timebound targets for innovation, giving objective and rationale for a mission-based approach.

Furthermore, the report suggests that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) should actively regulate on the basis of innovation, giving its usual ratings for innovations, such as ‘needs improvement’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.

Provide more active support for local providers and commissioners

Under the second key policy shift to spread healthcare innovation within the NHS, the IPPR explains: “The goal must be to create an ‘innovation eco-system’ where the NHS workforce have the relationships and resources to engage with spread. Such a paradigm shift would create a step-change in the system’s performance.”

The think tank believes that providers and commissioners should be rewarded by innovation outcomes, not by activity levels. This would give incentives to providers and commissioners to be innovative, with payments made to those measurably achieving the best performance as defined in a clearly pre-defined set of criteria.

Similarly, the report recommends that individuals should be expected to spread innovation within the NHS and be subsequently rewarded for spreading innovation effectively.

In addition, the IPPR says that workforce funding streams should include bespoke time for clinicians to focus on innovation and adoption, with local freedom on how that is allocated to roles. The think tank adds that setting up clinical networks will allow healthcare professionals to access support and share best practice with each other.

The final policy that the think tank recommends is a transformation fund, equivalent to £10 billion, that should be implemented over four years to support innovation. This will support the commissioning and decommissioning of services and allow clinicians to ‘see the difference’ from a new practice before committing.

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