Embracing innovation can improve care and ease NHS pressures

Creating a culture of innovation can improve care and tackle some of the pressures faced by healthcare professionals, according to a new joint report from NHS leaders, charity CEOs and the pharmaceutical industry.

Too often, patients, healthcare professionals and the NHS are not able to benefit fully from advances in technology, treatments, and approaches for prevention. A key barrier to this is a lack of capacity in the workforce to conduct research and embed innovation.

A new report, ‘Collaborate to innovate: Learning from NHS, charity and life sciences industry experience to boost UK research and build a culture of health innovation,’ sets out the barriers to building a culture of innovation, spotlights examples of success, and lists practical actions for leaders in the NHS and industry to follow.

The report is part of a programme of work between the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the ABPI’s Patient Advisory Council of leading charity CEOs. The NHS Confederation supported the project by convening a roundtable of NHS, industry and charity leaders to discuss how to create a culture of innovation in the NHS.

The discussion highlighted that the opportunities from innovation are significant. One example given was that changes in culture around stroke research and engagement contributed to almost halving stroke deaths over the last 20 years. [1]

The report found several barriers to innovation. In recent years, the UK has become a less attractive destination for the global pharmaceutical industry’s clinical trials largely due to issues of capacity, resourcing, cost and process complexity. Although signs of recovery are starting to emerge, the benefits of innovation are not being maximised.

The report also found a lack of awareness of the resources and expertise available from charities in the research and innovation ecosystem. Another barrier was a sense that research and innovation are separate from NHS core mission.

Charities were identified as an underused resource in driving change and contributing to successful research – as they can better understand the needs of patients, carers and research participants, support the design of research proposals, convene different groups to encourage patient recruitment into clinical trials, and act as a route for sharing good practice.

The report gives five key practical actions to encourage an innovative culture, under the acronym DRIVE:

  • Define purpose: Develop a shared understanding of the purpose of working together, the key topics and what partners hope to achieve.
  • Review and build on what already exists: Explore the existing research and innovation ecosystem, engage with stakeholders already operating in the space, and identify who needs to be involved as a partner to overcome challenges, fill gaps and avoid duplicating existing work.
  • Invest in infrastructure: Sustained investment in dedicated resources, tools, people, infrastructure and support is essential to mainstream research in health systems.
  • Value success: Motivate people and incentivise collaborative action by recognising the contribution of successful partnerships to organisational and collective goals.
  • Equip teams to collaborate: Create dedicated capacity to enable knowledge and skills to be maintained and embedded into the routine.

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Health innovation has the potential to lift the NHS from what can feel like the never-ending hamster wheel of day-to-day delivery, but to realise this opportunity its leaders need to be supported to have more time and headspace to get involved.”

Richard Torbett, Chief Executive of the ABPI, said: “There can be a cultural sense that research and innovation are separate from the core business of the NHS. But research can help achieve the best outcomes for many patients, and that is the core business of the NHS. We all have a responsibility to create a more research-focussed culture, and I hope the practical actions in this report will help.”

Marie-Andrée Gamache, Country President, Novartis UK and Ireland, said: “The UK holds tremendous potential in the life sciences, with world-class academic institutions, diverse talent, charities, powerful industry and of course the NHS, which is why it’s vital that we drive greater collaboration between the health service, industry and research to bring innovative medicines to more patients, more quickly.

“The network of the NHS offers a unique setting to bring new therapies to patients, but there remains huge, untapped potential for collaboration between industry, health charities and the health service.”

Nicola Perrin, Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), said: “Embedding research and innovation in the NHS leads to better outcomes for patients. It’s fantastic to see this report highlighting the vital role charities play as partners to drive this change.”

Good examples of cross-sector collaboration and innovation were highlighted in the report to provide learnings for companies and the NHS.

Good practice examples underway
Good practice examples happening now included the DETERMINE trial from Cancer Research UK, which is looking at the efficacy of existing medicines on rare cancers.

The trial is following a collaborative approach led by the University of Manchester, with Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development working in partnership with industry, NHS England, academic institutions and NHS hospitals.

Another example was the ELSA study by Diabetes UK, to explore the feasibility of national screening for type 1 diabetes. Diabetes UK and JDRF are funding an early surveillance programme for autoimmune diabetes, screening 20,000 children between the ages of three and 13 across the UK. The study is taking a partnership approach with industry, NHS England, the National Screening Committee, and existing research infrastructure.

  • Partnership

Last modified: 22 May 2024

Last reviewed: 22 May 2024

[1] The NHS Confederation in partnership with the ABPI, ‘Collaborate to Innovate: Learning from NHS, charity and life sciences industry experience to boost UK research and build a culture of health innovation’, April 2024, p21.

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The ABPI exists to make the UK the best place in the world to research, develop and use new medicines. We represent companies of all sizes who invest in discovering the medicines of the future. 

Our members supply cutting edge treatments that improve and save the lives of millions of people. We work in partnership with Government and the NHS so patients can get new treatments faster and the NHS can plan how much it spends on medicines. Every day, we partner with organisations in the life sciences community and beyond to transform lives across the UK.