Dr Kathy McLean looks at how healthcare providers can make best use of the £220m innovation funding to improve working practices and deliver quality of patient care

Innovation in healthcare is essential if we are to meet the growing challenges of an ageing population, the increase in prevalence of chronic disease, health inequality and rising public expectations of improved healthcare delivery.

High Quality Care for All 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. Key to achieving this is the requirement to challenge everything we do in healthcare, and every aspect of service delivery. 

The way in which we rise to the quality and productivity challenge will play a crucial role in delivering improved models of care that increase staff productivity through innovation, allowing them to do more with less and to deliver the highest quality of patient care.

We must ask ourselves: Is what we are doing efficient? Can we do it better, 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

The commitment to supporting frontline innovation has been proven by the creation of the regional innovation fund – a £220m five-year fund from the Department of Health. Each of England’s 10 strategic health authorities has received £1.94 million this year, with up to a further £5 million in each of the next four years as part of the government’s commitment to create a more innovative and high quality health service. 

So how should healthcare organisations go about promoting a culture of innovation among staff, in order to develop and implement new models of care, and crucially to share best practice and success on a wider scale?

The ultimate aim is to create a community of innovators that crosses different districts, organisations and healthcare disciplines. Partnership working harnesses different areas of expertise and experience to ensure that best practice and innovation can be shared and implemented on a wider scale, and at a faster pace.

In the East Midlands, we are actively engaging with experts from the private, academic and voluntary sectors to harness their expertise. 

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.

There is a lot of good work going on within the NHS. The issue I have encountered is sometimes that best practice and innovation is not effectively shared across regions.  We have formed an innovation network, which brings together NHS and partner organisations within the East Midlands to share experiences of what has worked well, to promote wider adoption of innovative healthcare practices that are working well, in order to improve healthcare services for the benefit of patients, service users and carers.

Shorter implementation time will also bring with it cost benefits, as well as increasing the quality of care received by patients.

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. 

The numbers speak for themselves. Strokes for example affect more than 110,000 people in England each year, which costs the NHS over £2.8 billion; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 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 while improving patient care and choice.


Around 40 per cent of all hospital activity in Nottingham is linked to long-term conditions, and to address this, Nottingham City PCT has launched one of the UK’s largest mainstream deployments of telehealth technology to monitor patients’ wellbeing in their own homes.

Telehealth allows patients with long-term conditions to benefit from daily monitoring while respecting their privacy and, crucially it educates them to be more aware of their own symptoms and proactively manage them – a vital step in reducing the pressure on healthcare providers. This approach is helping to reduce hospital admissions and GP visits, lessening the burden on primary and acute care providers and ensuring NHS resources are used effectively.

Around 800 people with long-term conditions such as COPD and congestive heart failure 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 made up of occupational therapists, nurses and physiotherapists from primary care work together with secondary care respiratory nurses to help manage patients with more complex needs.

This innovative, cross-disciplinary approach to managing long-term conditions is one which has proven to be a win-win for patient and trust alike, and one which trusts across the East Midlands and UK are looking at, in order to improve the quality of patient care while also making the best possible use of available resources.

Improving quality and patient experience

Nottingham City Council has also launched an innovative service that uses radio frequency identification buttons to identify clothing belonging to residents, enhancing care provision for people with dementia by maintaining their identity and independence.

The service is the first of its kind to be launched in the UK. RFID buttons 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 enables health and social care professionals to address the risk of infections such as MRSA and other skin-related issues and allergies, which is a concern for staff when washing residents’ clothes together.

All the residents and their families have been very positive about the initiative, as it provides the residents 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.

The information from this project will be shared across the council’s intranet website to create best practice in the region. The aim of the regional innovation funding is to share similar success and best practice further still, to promote wider adoption of technologies and approaches.

The next steps

NHS trusts looking to access the innovation funding should contact the innovation lead within their organisation, and also liaise with the strategic health authority. These leads can share their experience and expertise and ensure a strong application is put together. 

I believe that it is through enhanced awareness and a multi-disciplinary approach that we can share success stories such as the adoption of telecare, telehealth and RFID technology, encouraging a more widespread adoption of approaches which are working well, and delivering on the Department of Health’s aim of improving quality of patient care, boosting productivity and promoting a more preventative approach to healthcare management.