What is innovation, and how will an Academy help?

health innovation

David Evans, Programme Manager for the West of England Academy reflects on innovation, and what role that we, as an AHSN, might play in helping others understand and embrace innovation.

Take a glance through the NHS Long Term Plan and the word ‘innovation’ appears time after time. Simon Stevens is accredited as saying, ‘the AHSNs are the innovation arm of the NHS.’

But what does innovation really mean here? And what is our role?

Reading up on innovation can lead you to stories like Edison’s 1000 tests to perfect the lightbulb or Dyson’s many thousands of bag-less vacuum cleaner prototypes. They are remarkable examples of persistence and resilience, but I don’t think it’s all about ‘lightbulb’ (or vacuum) invention moments.

My reading has helped me understand we are already innovating at the West of England AHSN. We have taken ideas from others, helped adapt and develop them for use in a different setting. Then we spread them. PReCePT, NEWS, the Emergency Department checklist are all examples of ideas taken from others and developed for a different setting. That is a powerful form of innovation.

Our pioneering of the use of Quality Improvement (QI) in healthcare is another form of innovation. We take ideas from other sectors (e.g. Toyota in the motor industry) and then adapt and use them to improve care in our own organisations. The ‘Godfathers’ of QI (Shewhart, Deming and Juran) didn’t work in healthcare, but we have adapted the approaches and the tools they used.

So, how can we encourage others to think and work more innovatively, more of the time?

A few minutes on Google and you can find lots of organisations who want to help you and a plethora of toolkits.  Many point to the fact that innovation is a state of mind, but using specific tools and techniques can help to develop new healthcare tools and procedures.

We have found ways to support individuals through our business support work and courses like our Health Innovation Programme (currently recruiting), but we will widen this support to everyone who wants to understand innovation and its role in healthcare.

I don’t think I am an innovator, but through my work here I’ve learnt a lot about innovation. What excites me is using my skills in project and programme management to help others that want to understand innovation and think and work innovatively. I work with talented individuals that can support any stage of innovation from the early stages of understanding a problem, through creative thinking, developing, testing and evaluating and implanting ideas.

What we are doing now to share this knowledge and expertise is developing a suite of courses, toolkits and online resources. These draw on our expertise, contacts, and the best external resources to support anyone wanting to understand innovation in healthcare. We are calling this the West of England Academy.

The West of England Academy will build on our successful work spreading Quality Improvement (QI) knowledge. We’ll work with our existing QI advocates and seek out new converts as well. We’re already running prototype courses and resources are currently being added to our website. The Academy offering will continue to grow throughout 2020. Perhaps you might explore and use our new online toolkit of resources or maybe I will see you at one of the many events we are planning to help spread the use of innovation and improvement tools and techniques. Or maybe you would like to discuss an idea you have.

Either way – do check out the West of England Academy


Posted on February 10, 2020 by David Evans, Programme Manager, West of England AHSN

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