Health minister Ara Darzi pushes innovation in the NHS

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 01 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1825
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

    Doctors have been challenged to come up with innovations to tackle some of the challenges that the population’s health face.

    A £220m (€250m; $330) pot will be available to England’s 10 strategic health authorities to encourage innovation within the NHS. Each authority will receive £2m this year and £5m in each of the following four years as dedicated regional innovation funds.

    England’s strategic health authorities have a legal duty to promote innovation and support the spread of innovative technologies and solutions throughout the health services. This is part of new measures set out in the health bill currently before parliament.

    Strategic health authorities will decide locally how to use the money to support innovation. The funds will focus largely on promoting innovations in healthcare delivery, health improvement, and patient engagement rather than the development of new drugs or devices. Teams of NHS staff, general practices, primary care trusts, or any type of NHS organisation can bid for the new regional innovation funds.

    In addition, £20m over five years has been set aside for innovation challenge prizes to reward breakthroughs in the biggest healthcare challenges, from childhood obesity to the treatment of dementia. These challenges will be set annually by an expert panel headed by John Bell, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences. The panel will finalise the challenges over the summer and they will be announced this autumn. The prizes, worth up to £1m each, will reward those ideas that can be copied and diffused quickly across the NHS.

    Announcing the initiative in London this week, the health minister Ara Darzi said that the issue of innovation was one close to his heart. The move follows his strategy High Quality Care for All in June 2008, which said that the NHS must become more pioneering and a place in which innovation is supported and allowed to flourish (BMJ 2008;337:a642, doi:10.1136/bmj.a642).

    Lord Darzi told the BMJ, “In the past 50 years 40% of all innovations have come from within the UK. We have the brain power but we need to be better at putting these good ideas into action.”

    He added, “We want to reward innovation. For example, Dr John Charnley designed the low friction hip replacement, which was a fantastic invention that was never rewarded.” Lord Darzi gave another example of an innovative idea—a commode that had been designed in Sheffield to specifically help patients disabled with stroke.

    The challenges could be set for non-clinical as well as clinical advances, for example, for improved patient experience and care pathways. John Bell said, “There is lots that can be done at all levels such as improving the nutrition of patients in hospital, managing hospital acquired infections, managing obesity, and keeping patients with dementia in their own homes for longer.” He added, “These ideas can come from people at any level in the health service.” The prizes could go to individuals or groups. For example, a catering department of a district general hospital could win for improving patient nutrition or a whole hospital for improving the health and wellbeing of the NHS staff.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1825

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