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Successfully scaling innovation across the NHS

Yorkshire & Humber AHSN welcomes the Innovation Unit’s new report ‘Against the Odds: Successfully scaling innovation across the NHS‘.

Innovation Unit and the Health Foundation have joined forces to call on system leaders and policymakers to do more to create the right conditions for innovations to spread in the NHS.

Their new report reveals new insights from research into ten case studies of innovations that have successfully spread in the NHS, highlighting why some innovations are not just scalable, but do actually succeed in scaling up.

The report calls on system leaders and policymakers to do more to create a better environment for innovations to spread, including:

  • The ‘adopters’ of innovation need greater recognition and support. The current system primarily rewards innovators, but those taking up innovations often need time, space and resources to implement and adapt an innovation in their own setting.
  • It needs to be easier for innovators to set up dedicated organisations or groups to drive scaling. Scaling innovation can be a full-time job for an individual, and difficult to do alongside frontline delivery. Often dedicated organisations are needed to consciously and strategically drive scaling efforts, including when innovators ‘spin out’ from the NHS, and innovators may need support to set them up.
  • System leaders need to take more holistic and sophisticated approaches to scaling. Targets and tariffs are not a magic bullet for scaling; while they can help, they don’t create the intrinsic and sustained commitment required to replicate new ideas at scale. System leaders need to use different approaches, including articulating national and local healthcare priorities in ways that create strategic opportunities for innovators, and using commissioning frameworks to enable rather than hinder, the sustainable spread of innovations.

For many years, frustration has been expressed that the spread of innovation in the NHS is slow and laborious, and that even when new ideas are taken up elsewhere it proves harder to replicate their initial success. But whilst existing research has provided an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the problems facing those trying to scale innovation, solutions have remained unclear. The report says that the NHS’ traditional approaches to promoting spread, such as pilot programmes and targets, often prove insufficient to the task.

The report also highlights what actions innovators (those that developed the idea) and adopters (those that implement the intervention in a different setting) need to take to enable more innovations to spread.

David Albury, Board Director, Innovation Unit, said: “In order to improve patients’ experience of care and their health outcomes, reduce variation in the quality of care across the country, and relieve the immense capacity and financial pressures on the NHS, we need more tried and tested innovations to reach more of those who could benefit from them. This will require new approaches, not just from innovators themselves, but from policymakers and system leaders in the NHS, who create the environment in which scaling takes place, and who can provide the support needed to make it happen.”

Will Warburton, Director of Improvement, the Health Foundation, said: “We hope that those who want to support the spread of innovation – innovators, system leaders, charities, and others – will find inspiration and learning from the stories told by the people who led these successful innovations, and that the perspectives offered in this report can help complement and move forward both conversation and action on scale and spread. The report holds out a tantalizing glimpse of what improvements in patient experience and outcomes might be possible if we were to devote as much attention and resources to the process of adapting and applying what we already know as we do to the development of new ideas and technologies.”

The full report, including more detailed recommendations for innovators, adopters and system leaders, is now available here.