‘Ah-ha’ moments : How the NHS should encourage staff innovation

How do people who work in health go about improving something they care about? Suppose that one day at work I have an ‘ah-ha’ moment where I can clearly see how to improve the way we organise care for a group of patients. But where do I start? Who will help me?

Everyone in the NHS is being encouraged to innovate – but what does that actually mean, and how can the NHS help translate good ideas into improvements with impact?

Health and healthcare organisations need to put in a place an identifiable, accessible and encouraging structure which helps us all to tackle improvement.

Imagine my ‘ah-ha’ moment is this;  I’m convinced it would be beneficial to transfer a task such as therapeutic eye injections from a medical person to another health worker.  Premium medical time would be better spent, waiting times for patients would be reduced and patient experience would be the same or better.

A new skill would have to be taught to a different staff group, clinics would need to be reorganised and I would have to make the case for change.  Perhaps my immediate manager doesn’t see it as achievable.

My employer though should be able to support, at the very least, some assessment of a change like this before it is rejected as undoable.  What’s needed here is project planning, improvement science and engagement skills, data, team working, training  and perhaps new equipment. We are currently doing exactly this in the South Devon Health & Care community through the new Horizon Institute where we can now deliver a package that will help to solve these problems. 

The Institute is a ‘go-to’ place for ideas where there are people to talk to who can help with these different challenges.  No idea is out-of-bounds. I can take my idea, develop it with a coach to the stage where it looks as if it has merit or not.  Then I can take it for approval to my manager and identify  a small team to attend sessions which will teach us improvement science skills, help us to make a plan, identify and find relevant data, design our measures The coach will then support me and my team through weekly drop-in sessions and some further days of training in improvement methodology (a blend of IHI* and ‘Lean’). They will help me to understand the human factors and patient safety issues that need to be thought about as part of the change and help with my measures.  I might be able to use a live simulation to map the process using the skills of the Institute Simulation tutors.

The doctor with an idea about designing a piece of equipment which will help with accuracy of injection and therefore reduce risk when transferring the task away from medical hands, is able to access a product innovation team who will guide her through a process of product and patent searching (to ensure the idea doesn’t currently exist somewhere), expose her to challenges over the design, access likely companies to work with and potentially license the idea to a company who will patent and produce it.

At the end of my project, I hope that not only will it have achieved its purpose, but a new product may have been created with income potential for  both the inventor and employer.  I will have learned how to run a project well and could lead another myself with greater confidence.

*IHI = Institute of Healthcare Improvement