Frontline staff with innovative ideas for the NHS should be supported by senior healthcare leaders, experts said at a London conference today (12 May 2011).
Senior technology and healthcare leaders acknowledged the barriers presented to innovation in the current financial climate – the NHS in England needs to find £20bn of costs savings by 2015 – but insisted that this climate was precisely why the spread of high-quality service ideas was essential.
"If we cannot help people to understand the importance of innovation, we're never going to achieve sustainability," said Dr Lynne Maher (pictured), Interim Director for Design and Innovation at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.
She urged health leaders to encourage new ideas and to support a culture in which staff feedback and suggestions were not stifled.
"One of the main barriers reported to us by NHS frontline staff was that they did not feel supported by senior leadership teams or senior leaders to be able to innovate," said Dr Maher.
"Senior leaders do not make it clear that to achieve the changes they need – increasing quality, reducing costs, making sure systems are safe and providing a good patient experience – is innovation."
Christine Connelly, Chief Information Officer for Health, suggested that the financial climate was an ideal time to present new propositions to health leaders. "Never let a good crisis go to waste," she said. "When people have said to you, 'It's not the right time', go back and say, 'How much more do you need?"
Ms Connelly is leading the development of an 'information strategy' at the Department of Health, which is seeking to "bridge the system" of isolated systems used across the NHS and create a more joined-up health service.
"In healthcare, we sometimes have found it difficult to adopt the innovation that has taken place elsewhere," she said, drawing an example of the wide use of social networking sites and Skype – in which people quickly exchange information globally – that the healthcare service, she said, was not really using.
Dr Maher said the health service suffered from "the islands of improvement effect", in which successful practice that worked in one area was not being picked up elsewhere.