John Glen MP: The real challenge of innovation lies within the NHS
I was pleased on Monday to read “Innovation, Health and Wealth”, the report of the review into innovation in the health service led by Sir Ian Carruthers. In October I called for a debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of innovation in the NHS. The statement by the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley MP, made clear that the government appreciate the value and importance of innovation to the future of the UK’s health service. As the Carruthers report explains, innovation in the NHS has the capacity both to save lives and drive up standards of care in the health service, but also to promote efficiency and reduce the cost burden of treatments and procedures.
I argued in October that the current processes to capitalise on innovation are simply not quick enough, and there are insufficient incentives and mechanisms to innovate. The recommendations of the Carruthers report are very welcome and will go some way to addressing this. The shared savings formula and a system of payment for outcomes act will develop real incentives to innovate. The focus on making the uptake of innovation “quicker and smarter” - by developing close relationships between industry, the Medical Research Council, and the Technology Strategy board, and introducing processes to fast-track NICE-approved treatments onto the hospital floor - is also particularly welcome.
I was particularly interested in Andrew Lansley’s recognition of a new prevailing research model, based upon collaboration, early clinical trials, and a willingness to outsource. I have two observations to offer on this theme that should complement and extend the reforms outlined on Monday.
Second, if a modern research and innovation model is to succeed, we have to understand the crucial role of leadership. The Carruthers review focussed on Board-level leadership and specified commitments to promote innovation, but this needs to extend to a fundamental cultural change. The systematic exploitation and adoption of good ideas, and the ability to bring ideas to a point of commercial viability, should become “second nature”.
The review found that the chain from an initial idea to widespread use across the health service was too long. A fear of failing has stunted the adoption and promotion of innovative ideas. We need a culture in the health service that is not paralysed by a fear of failure, so that individuals are prepared and feel able to take risks, but also take responsibility. This is a central virtue of private enterprise that should find its way into the heart of the NHS.
The recommendations of the Carruthers review are a welcome start to tackling the challenge of innovation in the health service, but they should be complemented and extended by a focus on innovation within the NHS, and a creation of a culture that is not afraid of risk-taking or of possible failure. It is there that the greatest potential for efficiency and higher standards lies.