30 September 2020
Building back better

Jack Tabner

Much has been written about digitisation and innovation being a rare COVID-19 silver lining – including by me! So much so, I am increasingly spending my time trying to build into the way we do things, some of the positive aspects of how we problem-solved during the peak of the wave here at MFT:

  • agile and pragmatic governance procedures that don’t stifle innovation
  • quick access to seed-funding
  • bright people in one socially-distanced room (or on one Teams call) focused on a shared goal
  • people who know the problems, being trusted to operationalise solutions with permission to fail

And yet some of what enabled such a speedy response to a number of our challenges during the pandemic was happening across the NHS. COVID-19 has had a major impact on innovation, both positive and negative.

In early September, we were fortunate enough to share a virtual lunchbreak with Ben Richardson and Scott Bentley from Carnall Farrar (CF) as part of our Big Conversations series. You can view our recording of the discussion here.

The thesis within the research CF have recently published in partnership with the IPPR is that there is now a major economic prize to be seized in the value of innovation; economic participation, avoided cost, as well as in greater R&D and manufacturing post Brexit – to the tune of £28bn according to their modelling.

Innovation improves outcomes

Innovation in medicine, devices, pathways and digital ways of working and has been critical to improving outcomes over many years.

Cancer and cardiovascular both provide excellent examples of how innovation can be advanced, but also how barriers exist to its adoption. Improvements in screening and early detection have caused major leaps forward, as have major investment and development in drugs and therapies.

We know that COVID-19 and the ‘Stay at home, Protect the NHS’ message landed so well across the country that patients were foregoing screening and early stage diagnostics (e.g. Endoscopy) and treatments in order to stay away from the perceived risk and so as to ‘not bother the GP’. As much as virtual consultations in both primary and secondary care helped, the health service now is wrestling with the task of prioritising need on ever-growing waiting lists, while also preparing for potential future COVID-19 waves on top of winter and regular flu season. Not easy.

‘Contactless Care’

And so there is a critical need in innovation to now ‘build back better’ – particularly accelerating the concept of ‘contactless care’, service-by-service, patient segment-by-patient segment. The table below I really like – the impact of COVID-19 has not been homogenous and has affected different parts of the population in different ways:

For patients, ‘building back better’ means supporting digital adoption for instance in Outpatient Follow Up care and rehab, and coming back to the GP and the hospital, balancing the risks of infection appropriately.

For Trusts like us, this means maximising the utilisation of diagnostics and creating as much COVID-secure capacity as possible, and across the NHS, massively upping our game when it comes to testing, testing, testing.

Focusing on adoption and spread

It’s not enough to have the idea, develop the device, develop the drug, concoct and test the new pathway. A major part of the challenge is sharing and spreading innovations.

There is a unique role for regional structures like ICSs to play here; not so much in always discovering new ways of doing things but in applying what is proven and what works as quickly and as safely as possible – what’s known as ‘scale and spread’.

Food for thought: Department of Health R&D spend surpasses £2bn per year. Approximate annual spend supporting the spread of innovation through the 15 regional AHSNs amounts to £50m…

Through the Medway Innovation Institute we are proud to partner with the Medway Innovation Hub (our sister organisation which focuses on Primary Care innovation in Medway and Swale) and the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network. Innovation is a team sport.

If you joined and enjoyed the discussion, do get in touch. I’d love to discuss this further over a coffee. And thanks again to Ben and Scott for presenting their research. Lots to think about as we look to build back better.

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