Listening to innovators

The past year has proved to be the toughest in the NHS’s 73 year history. NHS staff, clinical and non-clinical, worked incredibly hard to provide care and support patients; scientists worked at record pace to discover and deliver vaccinations to combat COVID-19; and people pulled together to help one another and hunkered down for lockdown. However, we would not have been able to continue to provide care without people across our communities and the NHS embracing digital technology.

In the days and weeks that followed the outbreak and national lockdown, thousands of innovators, ranging from hobbyist inventors to multinational corporations, offered digital technology to help the NHS cope. Many of these offers were made at a massively reduced rate or even for free. NHSX mobilised quickly to assess all of the offers and adopted around 100 of these technologies at various levels across the NHS.

One example of a technology that became vital to our response to the pandemic was the use of virtual COVID-19 wards. These enabled people with COVID-19 to convalesce at home while being monitored by a clinician remotely using an NHS supplied pulse oximeter and their own phone to send readings to a central location. If a patient exceeded blood oxygenation tolerances then they could be rushed in to receive specialist treatment in their hospital. This not only used clinical time as well as possible, but also meant hospital beds were used for those in greatest need.

Many GPs, hospital clinicians and patients have, after a learning curve, become more used to online consultations. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been used increasingly to assess chest scans to ease the workload of radiologists and specialty doctors. Uptake in new digital services through the necessity of circumnavigating COVID-19 infection has accelerated the recommendations of the NHS Long Term Plan by years.

Listening to digital health innovators report

There is much to be proud of in the scaling of digital health solutions. However, despite this progress, some of the longer term frustrations that innovators voice when engaging with the NHS have remained, according to our Listening to innovators report. Different standards are still used when assessing potential suppliers on tender processes by different parts of the NHS. Access to data on patient devices from electronic health records (EHR) in hospitals are cited as being a barrier to implementing digital care more quickly and effectively and as procurement processes are still complex they continue to be slow. Transparency and good governance are essential when it comes to delivering the best possible care and services to patients.

Key trends of the report

The Listening to innovators report highlights 5 trends that are affecting digital health innovators.

Accelerated digital adoption

This was evident across the NHS during COVID-19, but supported by smarter procurement frameworks and enhanced information governance support.

Approach and delivery

Digital solutions have been accelerated with the use of remote first care and virtual wards implemented across the NHS in England.

Expanding services

It has been essential for both the NHS and innovators to expand the services offered in order to meet the increased demand from COVID-19. NHSX has supported with standards frameworks, best practice guides and a report to help innovators understand what the NHS looks for in digital and data driven technologies.

Responding to service provision outside the pandemic

Major initiatives beyond the COVID-19 are being rolled out and promoted across the health and social care system. These include the AI Lab strategy, digital playbooks and access to health and care records.

Digital capabilities

The NHS and its staff must have the right digital skills and capabilities to meet the demands of a modern healthcare service. The report outlines the programmes that support the digital skills of NHS boards, skills training for clinical teams, training for all staff under the digital ready workforce programme as well as the flagship Digital Academy.

Why it’s important we listen to innovators

The report explores the barriers that innovators face when delivering digital technology to the NHS and what NHSX and the many partners we work with, are putting in place to reduce those barriers. We want to have an open dialogue with digital health innovators to understand the potential that technology can bring the NHS, to be clear about the challenges and needs of the health service and what we can do to make it easier to delivery great technology solutions that make a real impact to the lives of patients, clinicians and everyone connected to the NHS.

We need innovative technology to help us meet modern day challenges and we need to enable innovators to understand the needs of the NHS. Many of the technologies that have transformed NHS care and services have been developed by small and medium sized companies. To continue to improve the NHS we need to listen and this report outlines priorities from industry that are helping to transform patient care.

Read the 2021 Listening to digital heath innovators report to find out more.