At present, the NHS is facing challenges with its demand and capacity, workforce, and staffing, as well as pressures in the provision of social care.
But, beyond these immediate challenges, there is an equally-pressing need for long-term innovation, reform, and greater operational efficiency.
While the idea may sound hollow to those on the frontlines, the NHS could – and should – improve its pace of innovation, whether it comes from science or from peers.
Research by Kelsea R Little, an MSc graduate of King’s College London, sought to identify barriers to health innovation to understand whether London can become a strong healthtech environment and to identify solutions that will foster creativity and development in the capital.
The results, gathered from 10 interviewees within London’s healthtech and medical technology ecosystem, showed that while London has a significant potential and ability to become a global hub for health innovation, there are organisational, cultural, and commercial barriers that need to be addressed first.
While the idea may sound hollow to those on the frontlines, the NHS could – and should – improve its pace of innovation, whether it comes from science or from peers
This may not be easy; but with the establishment of several organisations and partnerships, such as the NHS Innovation Accelerator, The Accelerated Access Collaborative, the White City Innovation District, MedCity, the Knowledge Quarter, and Digital Health London, there is encouraging evidence of a common goal to push for a more-innovative culture and healthcare experience.
Knowledge, regulation, funding
The research revealed that, despite a collective understanding of a need for research and modernisation within the NHS, there is limited space to innovate.
And this is fuelled by antiquated working practices, structural barriers that do not allow space or freedom to explore innovation, and those on the frontline not always being encouraged to modernise.
A lack of communication between the health and the tech industries prevents the transfer of health discoveries from an academic environment to a commercial environment.
This lack of dialogue highlights the gap in knowledge between health professionals and those who create and build commercial ventures.
An industry insider revealed that most early-stage innovators do not know how to commercialise a product, how to create a business plan, and have no concept of how to best search for funding.
Likewise, regulation poses an overwhelming barrier.
Many developers are not educated on health technology regulation standards and intellectual property procedures and must therefore overcome several layers of complex certifications, procedures, and laws through their own research or through partnerships with experts.
What’s more, COVID-19 and Brexit have played a major role in reconstructing regulatory processes.
A lack of communication between the health and the tech industries prevents the transfer of health discoveries from an academic environment to a commercial environment
Finally, access to funding poses another hurdle.
Funding fuels marketing initiatives, seeking regulatory compliance and business development, and without it, there is limited acceleration and commercialisation that can take place.
But many innovators are unaware of how to pursue funding. Respondents in the survey also cited a lack of standardisation across organisations as impeding the pace of adoption of innovations and their impact at scale.
Can we forecast innovation?
Despite its challenges, London has the potential to become a global health hub for innovation thanks to its strong healthcare network, vast talent, wealth, and unique global position.
The connection between life sciences, pharma, healthcare, and technology organisations sets the capital apart, and some London-based NHS trusts have already welcomed the necessary support to innovate.
This year will mark the first full year of operation for the 42 new statutory integrated care boards (ICBs).
First established in July 2022, ICBs have a ‘statutory duty to facilitate or otherwise promote research and […] innovation, for example AI and machine learning which is driving efficiency and enabling earlier diagnosis,’ according to the 2023/24 priorities and operational planning guidance.
London has the potential to become a global health hub for innovation thanks to its strong healthcare network, vast talent, wealth, and unique global position
“Improving NHS patient care, outcomes, and experience can only be achieved by embedding innovation and research in everyday practice,” the document further specifies.
But can the healthcare industry go one step further and forecast innovation?
An artificial intelligence framework built by MIT researchers shows that this might be possible.
DELPHI, short for Dynamic Early-warning by Learning to Predict High Impact, can give an ‘early-alert’ signal for future high-impact technologies by learning from patterns gleaned from previous scientific publications in biotechnology.
These predictions are based in the understanding that people are often resistant to new things and great innovation arises from the ‘adjacent possible’, meaning that many discoveries are often based on current, but improved, findings.
There is an opportunity for the NHS to implement these tools and get one step ahead of the curve.
Coupled with the creation of an inclusive community of early-stage innovators via accelerators and incubators, simplified regulatory demands, and support in bringing research to market, the NHS can become a world leader in innovation.