Harnessing innovation - how to deliver transformation in the NHS

30 January 2018


Across the NHS leaders are grappling with how to make the care system sustainable. Without significant change it will not be.

Today there is a ‘new normal’ of significant financial deficit across local health and social care systems.  A mismatch between demand and supply is placing huge strain on local services and those providing them.  It would be comforting to think that relief will be parachuted in from above to alleviate this situation.  But Brexit is taking much of Whitehall’s attention and a tight fiscal position means that the NHS is competing for a bigger slice of a smaller cake.

In this situation change is going to have to come from the bottom up rather than the top down.  The Five Year Forward View provides a helpful strategic framework.  Its vision of population-based, integrated and outcome-focussed care enjoys widespread support. The challenge is less about identifying strategic direction and more about succeeding in execution.   That is not easy when systems leaders have to balance immediate financial and performance pressures with ambitious transformation programmes.

Success depends on clarity about the key priorities for action. We believe there are four priorities that hold out the possibility of making a short term impact with long term benefits.


System re-design

If the future of health is one focused on predictive, holistic population health management leaders need to work collaboratively to identify what local systems should look like in future.  That means thinking less as institutions and more as systems. It means a new spirit of give and take.  And it means charting a credible course for implementation

Strategic workforce planning

Changing how care is delivered will require changes in skills and capabilities. Matching skills to needs will mean redesigning the local workforce. Staff will need to work in different ways (in teams, not silos), be comfortable using advanced analytics and data tools, and be equipped to utilise the latest technology for the benefits of patients and the public.  A start can be made by developing a local strategic workforce plan.

Harness the potential of technology

The world is on the verge of a revolution in what healthcare can do and how it can do it.  Technology - from AI to genomics - has the potential to transform care for the better.   But all too often the NHS is uncertain and incoherent in effectively engaging with new technology and digital solutions.  That must change.  Every systems leader should engage with technology providers to harness the benefits.

Empower patients

The NHS will not be sustainable unless it changes its relationship with patients.  The growth in chronic disease forces it to do so.  Patients need to be empowered to take greater charge and responsibility for their own health.  Technology can help provide the means of doing so.   But the NHS also needs to learn from others who have delivered behaviour change campaigns if it is to successfully engage with active patients rather than passive ones. 

And finally

In today’s volatile and fast-moving world successful leaders are those that are externally-focused and willing to learn from other industries in order to disrupt the old and innovate the new.  The NHS is being disrupted - and there is much more to come.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness disruption so that it makes the system sustainable for this and future generations of patients.