The Department of Health has announced two competitions, each worth up to £2m, to develop innovative ideas for addressing some of the biggest health problems of our time.

The DH is looking for proposals that will “improve the number of patients taking their medicine as prescribed”, and “change people’s behaviour and attitudes in order to reduce the impact of obesity and alcohol related diseases.”

Health minister Lord Howe said: “Technology and innovation have an important role to play in helping to address the healthcare challenges facing the NHS.

“That is why we are investing £20m in new and creative ideas and projects which can make a difference to patients’ lives.

“Today’s competitions provide an opportunity to develop highly innovative solutions for some of the biggest health problems of our time and we look forward to seeing the results.”

The DH created the £20m prize fund in 2009, as part of a package of measures to encourage and spread innovation in the NHS that was spearheaded by then-health minister Lord Darzi.

He said he wanted to “shift the mindset” of the NHS in the direction of “asking questions” about longstanding problems and adopting best practice solutions when they existed.

Launching the new prizes, the DH said that alcohol and obesity-related diseases cost the NHS over £7 billion each year and that between 6-10 % of all hospital admissions could be preventable if prescription medication was taken correctly.

It said that in response businesses could enter anything from a device that helps people to monitor what they eat or drink to a personalised care plan to make sure that patients take their medication as prescribed.

The competitions will be run through the Small Business Research Initiative programme, and managed by NHS Midlands and East and NHS London. They are open to all companies, not just those in the health sector.

A previous SBRI competition was won by Eykona Technologies, which developed a 3D wound imaging system that allows healthcare professionals to monitor chronic wounds more effectively, and this is now being sold to the NHS.

Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS said: “Investing in innovation is vital for a modern and efficient NHS. The SBRI is a key part of the Innovation, Health and Wealth agenda, which aims to spread innovation throughout the NHS.

“These competitions provide vital funding for businesses to explore, develop and test new technology before it becomes commercially available. Organisations are invited to submit their ideas which could have a real impact on patients and the NHS.”

Businesses can find out more about the competition process by attending a briefing session, which will be held in London on 12 April. More details are available on the innovateuk website.