Healthcare innovation is critical for the wellbeing of society. However, there are many challenges that make it difficult to provide new solutions for saving lives. These challenges include funding processes and the speed with which new technologies are approved. A stable financial support ensures the consistency of provision of new products and services, and more lives can be saved if innovations are delivered promptly. However, those are both hard to achieve. High project cost and ineffectiveness of the proposed ideas are among the reasons the UK’s National Healthcare System (NHS) is failing.
These days, the NHS is experiencing increasing demand and the system is finding it difficult to retain its reputation as one of the world's best healthcare systems, due to frequent budget cuts and programme failures. However, recently, Simon Stephens, a CEO of NHS England announced a new Innovation and Technology Tariff category for med-tech innovation, stressing that this measure will make innovation processes cheaper and faster. The tariff is designed to give England access to purchasing innovations nationally instead of locally and guarantees automatic reimbursement when an approved innovation is used. Stephens argued that 'NHS has a proud track record of world's firsts in medical innovation...but then getting wide uptake has often been slow and frustrating.'
The new tariff is to benefit NHS Innovation Accelerator Programme (NIA), where developers have a chance to submit their projects for new healthcare services and products. The initiative has already received £1 million funding, which has now been increased to £8 million, with the innovations it has enabled have already being used by 68 NHS organizations, and benefiting over 3 million patients. Dr Mahiben Maruthappu, Co-Founder of NIA believes that through this programme, the NHS is entering an innovation revolution.
NIA applications are reviewed based on the population's health needs, with three challenge categories: prevention, early intervention and long-term condition management. Prevention innovations need to be focused on encouraging society to develop a healthier lifestyle, including quitting smoking, being active, eating healthier, and reducing alcohol intake. The second challenge, the early intervention, has to be provided with innovations that are capable of detecting conditions as early as possible, with better point care testing, portable technologies, genome sequencing, real-time analytics, clinical decision tools and many more. Long term condition management shapes the third challenge and is critical for 15 million people in England who suffer from at least one long-term condition. The aim is to improve self-management, mobilization support and medicine optimization with new products and services.
The history of the NHS includes at least a couple of known failures that cost billions of pounds and were ineffective. One of those is the NHS National Programme for IT, which was designed to improve the organization’s work with data but was abandoned after sucking £9.8 billion of public funds, and being described by the Commons Public Accounts Committee as 'one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector.' Additionally, the Health & Social Care Information Centre branded current IT projects in the NHS as 'high risk of failure'. However, the NHS has learned a lesson, and instead of looking at innovation from a ’top-down' perspective, the system now applies a bottom-up strategy.
Digital technology and low-cost innovations are expanding rapidly, replacing products and services that require too much time and budget, and are at high risk of failure. Digital platforms along with mobile apps and portable medical devices are capable of keeping people out of hospital longer, improving their quality of life and saving a big chunk of the budget. Firstly, the Accelerator Programme supported by the new innovation and technology funding tariff attracts tech companies across the entire country, instead of just certain large companies using money to deliver new products that may not even work. Also, focusing on prevention of the conditions by promoting a healthier lifestyle through digital innovation can be more cost-effective and productive than chasing out-of-date strategies.