NHS England is calling for healthcare innovators from across the world to trial new technologies and digital services at working NHS sites.

Organisations from industry, the voluntary sector or even the NHS itself have until 29 May to apply to the scheme, which allows advances in healthcare to be tested in a clinical setting at one of several ‘test bed’ sites.

According to NHS England, the aim is to evaluate the impact of new technologies, such as wearable devices, in the real world rather than in isolation where innovations can be “implemented without rigour and discipline, generating little evidence”. 

The scheme is part of the NHS Five Year Forward View, a plan for the future of the NHS launched by chief executive Simon Stevens at the end of 2014.

Stevens’ said the innovation project is part of an NHS England ambition is to become the “best place on the planet to test new combinations of innovations that produce clear payoffs for patients and taxpayers”.

“We’ll never be the system that pays the highest prices, [but] we could be the health service most open to new and better ways of providing care.”

NHS England will partner with the 15 academic health science networks on the programme, which plans to identify five test bed sites that that will receive national support.

These sites may include combinations of GPs, hospitals, community health teams, social care and the voluntary sector, and they must be able to implement innovations on a large scale and collect evidence on improvements in patient outcomes.

A prospectus for innovators published by NHS England says: “We are seeking to test innovations that offer the prospect of improving health and healthcare outcomes at the same or lower overall cost; in other words, high value innovations.

“We do not wish to over-define the potential range of innovations at this stage, although clearly those that offer the highest potential to address the big challenges in health and care will stand the best chance of inclusion in the national programme.”

Priorities defined by the NHS include preventing illness and improving health and wellbeing; supporting people to effectively manage multiple long term conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and mental illness; helping people to live better for longer and with greater independence in old age; improving diagnostic services; and optimising the use of medication.

NHS England also highlighted the growing importance of the Internet of Things when considering healthcare innovations by stating UK-based consortia focused on IoT technologies are invited to apply. 

“Maximising the use of digital technology and data, both in the delivery of services to patients and the ability of test bed partners to track outcomes and evaluate success, will be a key criteria on which bidders will be judged,” said the NHS England statement.

Once the first round of applications has been assessed there will be a ‘matchmaking’ period over the summer of 2015, where potential test bed NHS bodies will be able to discuss partnership opportunities with innovators.

Following this process, innovators and NHS bodies will be encouraged to develop joint proposals for testing and evaluating innovations and the strongest proposals will be designated as national test beds by the end of 2015.

These initiatives will be supported through a combination of national sponsorship, assistance with implementation barriers and a limited amount of investment.

Rachel Munton, chair of the network of AHSNs, said the group was “delighted to play our part in supporting local health and care systems to take advantage of this exciting opportunity”.

Life sciences minister George Freeman said the programme will help with “unlocking the potential of the world’s only fully integrated health system as the ultimate platform for assessing the real value of innovations”.

“By doing this we open the door to making the UK once again the best place in the world to invest in and develop medical innovations.”