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Breakdown barriers to innovation in the NHS

To tackle the squeeze between demand and resources in the NHS we need to make better use of innovative technology and methods, says a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research Improved circulation: Unleashing innovation across the NHS.

Sounds easy but, as the report points out, there are multiple barriers preventing innovation from being introduced and adopted throughout the NHS. These are summarised in three market failures, which:

  • make it hard for buyers and sellers (commissioners and developers) to identify and make contact with each other;
  • allow commissioners to make investment decisions motivated more by concerns about short term costs or risks than by patient outcomes;
  • sustain silos between care services and inhibit investment decisions which do not account for future savings in other parts of the healthcare system.

The report refers to a study by the Medical Technology Group, in association with Work Foundation, which cites the example of insulin pumps for people with Type 1 diabetes. Despite clear benefits of the technology (including fewer hospital admissions, improved clinical outcomes and a reduction in long term complications), take up is just 6 per cent in the UK, compared to between 15 and 35 per cent in other Western countries.

So what’s the answer? The report recommends three possible solutions:

  • helping buyers and sellers make contact, so that innovators can find the most relevant ‘way in’ to the healthcare system;
  • ensuring there is demand for innovative products in the NHS, and involving patients in the commissioning process;
  • supporting a ‘payment by outcomes’ approach to healthcare finances to incentivise investments in new innovations even if the pay-off may be banked many years down the line or in another part of the system.

Commenting on the report, chair of the MTG, Barbara Harpham said, “The NHS has made good progress to overcome the barriers to innovation and to change the systems and culture over recent years. But we still lag behind other countries and there’s variation across different regions.

“The report makes some sound recommendations which, if properly implemented and backed up by strong leadership, will not only improve outcomes for patients, but will help the NHS reach its £20 billion productivity target.”

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