NHSX: what’s on the digital innovators' wish list?

When NHSX launched in July this year, its chief executive, Matthew Gould, committed to creating an environment where digital innovation could flourish. In its first week as an organisation, it held a listening event, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative (ACC), the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), Office for Life Sciences, techUK and asked all the innovators one key question: “If NHSX and partners were to focus on one or two things, what do you think are the most important priorities?”

NHSX had over 100 digital health innovators attend the listening event and received in excess of 200 responses to its feedback requests. The collective feedback has been published in a new report: Listening to digital health innovators.

Five top themes or ‘fixes’ from the innovators

  • Standards: transparency in standards and interoperability
  • Procurement: addressing barriers to procurement
  • Engagement: improving engagement and linking to the market
  • Digital capability: increasing the digital capability of staff working in the NHS
  • Approach and scale: support for the scaling of products

The report also includes information on how NHSX is responding to each of these themes.

On standards, this was the highest ranked topic overall – and covered both technical and professional standards and how they can be consistently implemented as well as plans for achieving greater system interoperability.

NHSX’s work will be led by the Chief Technology Officer and will involve adopting open standards to ensure all new NHS technologies are interoperable and publishing APIs for key national services.

The consistent message on procurement was that it could be made easier. It was also felt that existing frameworks were not always suitable for digital health innovators.

NHSX with the support of NHS England and Improvement have created a new “Lot” on the Health Systems Support Framework, also known as the “Innovation Greenhouse Lot” to support Integrated Care Systems to access the market for tried and tested innovations for patients. We understand that this “Lot” may have a lighter touch process for innovative organisations and small to medium size enterprises and allow existing relevant accreditations to be carried forward into the bid process.

NHSX say that while this is “by no means the complete answer to the issue of procuring digital tools and services, it is an important step forward”. The new “Lot” is due to open this month and award within the next three months.

In terms of approach and scale, a new team at NHSX will lead the way, working with SMEs and larger scale industry partners to accelerate innovation. It will include a collaboration with the AAC in the new year and wider innovation forums joining the NHS and Innovators from all areas. Currently monthly Innovation Surgeries are held by NHSX in collaboration with the AHSN – the CQC will join a number of these to offer advice on regulation within the NHS.

On engagement, NHSX are committed to communicating openly and regularly as well as making the opportunities for digital health companies and methods of access clearer. This includes a National Centre of Expertise, which will oversee the policy framework, provide specialist commercial and legal advice to NHS organisations entering data agreements, develop standard contracts and guidance.

One of the final ‘fixes’ from innovators was the need to create “positivity around innovation so that we can work well with the NHS” and appointing board level digital officers in trusts and CCGs with a defined budget. This builds on the national work stream of increasing digital capability – a key strand of the national interim workforce plan, the Topol review and the response to the NHS Long Term Plan.

Exciting times ahead but only time will tell whether digital innovation will deliver the change.

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