Dr Kathy McLean, medical director and director with lead responsibility for innovation at NHS East Midlands, looks at how to make best use of £220m innovation funding to improve working practices and the quality of patient care.
The High Quality Care for All report set out a vision for making innovation central to the NHS. Its goal is to exploit new ideas to improve healthcare quality and increase productivity.
We must ask ourselves: Is what we are doing efficient? Can we do it better, both to improve patient care and to make resources go further? It is only by challenging existing, accepted practices that we can ensure truly world-class healthcare.
A commitment to innovation in healthcare
The commitment to supporting frontline innovation has been backed by the creation of the regional innovation fund – a £220m, five-year fund from the Department of Health. Each of England’s ten strategic health authorities has received £1.94m this year, with up to a further £5m available in each of the next four years.
So how should healthcare organisations go about promoting a culture of innovation amongst staff and, crucially, to share best practice and success on a wider scale?
Putting together an Innovation A-Team
The ultimate aim is to create a community of innovators which crosses different districts, organisations and healthcare disciplines. In the East Midlands, we are actively engaging with experts from the private, academic and voluntary sectors to harness their expertise.
Also central to any success is involving frontline clinical staff. These are the people who deliver healthcare services onsite and in the community every day, and who are best placed to comment on how things can be improved and done better.
Involving frontline staff from the outset will ensure that innovation is relevant and will deliver tangible benefits to both healthcare providers – in terms of enhancing service delivery – and to patients – by addressing real needs and improving overall quality of care.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
There is a lot of good work going on within the NHS. The issue I have encountered is that sometimes best practice is not effectively shared across regions.
We have formed an innovation network, which brings together NHS and partner organisations, to share experiences of what has worked well and to promote wider adoption of innovative healthcare practices.
The importance of innovation in managing long-term conditions
Long-term conditions is one of the areas of care for which strategic health authorities are considering the use of innovation funding, because of the impact on the individual patient and the intensive use of primary and secondary care resource that can result.
Strokes, for example, affect more than 110,000 people in England each year, which costs the NHS over £2.8 billion; COPD causes 30,000 deaths a year in England and Wales alone, with the cost of care to the NHS around £818m; 700,000 people in the UK have dementia, and this is expected to double in a generation, due to our ageing population.
Current models of care are unsustainable, and it’s therefore vital to look to innovative new approaches to streamline healthcare delivery whilst improving patient care and choice.
Relieving the pressure on care providers with telehealthcare
Around 40% of all hospital activity in Nottingham is linked to long-term conditions. To address this, NHS Nottingham City has launched one of the UK’s largest mainstream deployments of telehealth technology to monitor patients’ well-being in their own homes.
Telehealth allows patients with long-term conditions to benefit from daily monitoring whilst respecting their privacy. Crucially, it also educates them to be more aware of their own symptoms and to proactively manage them – a vital step in reducing the pressure on healthcare providers.
Eight hundred people with long-term conditions use telehealth monitors from Tunstall Healthcare to record their vital signs. The data is then monitored by community matrons who assess the information and provide timely and appropriate assistance.
In addition, a specialist team of occupational therapists, nurses and physiotherapists from primary care work with secondary care respiratory nurses to help manage patients with more complex needs.
This innovative, cross-disciplinary approach is one which has proven to be a win-win for patient and trust alike, and one which trusts across the East Midlands and the UK are looking at.
Improving quality of care and the patient experience
Nottingham City Council has also launched an innovative service that uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) buttons to identify clothing belonging to residents.
The RFID buttons, again from from Tunstall Healthcare, are being used to securely store data relating to residents to ensure all clothing can be identified and returned correctly.
The technology also enables health and social care professionals to address the risk of infections such as MRSA and other skin-related issues and allergies. These are a concern for staff when washing residents’ clothes together.
Residents and their families have been very positive about the initiative, as it provides them with the reassurance that the clothing they receive will be their own. This helps preserve their identity and plays an important role in reducing anxiety and stress.
Information from this project will be shared across the council’s intranet to create best practice in the region. The aim of the regional innovation funding is to share similar success and to promote the adoption of other good ideas.
Taking innovative next steps
NHS trusts looking to access the innovation funding should contact the innovation lead within their organisation, and also liaise with their SHA. The leads can share their experience and expertise and ensure that a strong application is put together.
Involving third-party organisations at an early stage can serve to further strengthen a bid, drawing in expertise from commercial and academic sectors.
I believe that it is through enhanced awareness and a multi-disciplinary approach that we can deliver on the DH’s aim of improving the quality of patient care, boosting productivity and promoting a more preventative approach to healthcare management.