Health minister Lord Darzi has unveiled a package of measures to encourage and spread innovation in the NHS.

Speaking at the launch of Innovation for a Healthier Future at the Science Museum in London, Lord Darzi said innovation was “close to my heart” and had the potential to “excite” both staff and patients.

“We have a very, very, strong history when it comes to innovation,” he added. “The challenge we are setting ourselves is to improve take-up across the NHS.”

The Department of Health is creating a £20m prize fund to encourage people working inside and outside the NHS to combat “the key health issues facing the nation.”

It is also creating a £220m fund to distribute money to strategic health authorities to encourage the spread of innovation over the next five years.

Subject to the Health Bill that is currently before Parliament, SHAs are to be given a new, legal duty to lead innovation and to publish annual innovation reports.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is due to support the innovation drive by launching an NHS Evidence portal to spread information about best practice. And the DH is planning an Innovation Expo in June.

Lord Darzi said the total package was designed to “shift the mindset” of the NHS in favour of “asking questions” and looking for new ways to tackle longstanding problems.

Speaking to E-Health Insider, he said IT was "one of the most of the most important enablers and there are examples of IT itself being the innovation." 

In his interview, Lord Darzi cited Homerton Hospital’s work on measuring patients’ experiences as an IT enabled innovation. This project has developed methods for feeding back the results of patient surveys dynamically to staff to create a cycle of quality improvement.

The scope of the Innovation Challenge Prizes will be laid out later this year. A panel of experts will draw up a shortlist of potential challenges, which the DH says should “focus on cures for, or significant improvements in, the treatment of key health issues of national and potentially universal significance.”

Following ‘public engagement’, five challenges will be chosen for the year, each of which will carry a prize of £1m. The winners will be announced at an annual awards event.

The £220m regional innovation fund will be distributed to SHAs over the next five years, with approximately £20m available this year and £50m available in each of the following four years. Each SHA will get an equal share of the fund each year.

DH information says: “The funds will focus largely on promoting innovation in healthcare delivery, health improvement and patient engagement rather than the development of new medicines or devices, for which funds are already available.”

Ruth Carnall, chief executive of NHS London, told the launch event that many primary care trusts were “risk averse” and she wanted to see them taking bolder steps to support new ideas.

A number of other projects with technology at their heart were cited as examples of innovation at the launch.

These included NHS Direct, Birmingham’s Own Health telehealth system, and the Telemedicine in Prison Health project, which is being trialled in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Homerton, with its supplier Dr Foster Intelligence, won the Excellence in Information Management category of the BT e-Health Insider Awards in 2007. If you think your team’s work deserves to be noticed, make sure to enter this year’s E-Health Insider Awards in association with BT.