Innovating out of the recession in the NHS
By Peter Baeck
Yesterday I attended the LSE seminar ’Innovating out of the recession in the NHS’. One of the speakers at the seminar was Jim Easton, NHS National Director for Improvement and Efficiency at DoH. Easton’s job is to save 20 billion between 2011 and 2014, and at the same time improve quality and efficiency. In many ways Easton is asking the same question as the Innovation Unit is in the Radical Efficiency project. He intends to reach through a greater focus on quality, innovation, productivity and prevention, also known as the QUIP programme.
Easton put a particular emphasis on the need for better sharing of ideas within the NHS, and how there is a present lack of this. The benefits of sharing or reusing other successful ideas can be manifold, one of these has been excellently described by Alec Patton in his blog Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?”: An Innovation Conundrum.
What is really interesting is Easton’s perception of the problem:
• There is a culture in the NHS where replicating successful ideas from other institutions is considered cheating, despite this is completely legal and implementing best practices is a direct way to savings and better quality.
• The culture within the NHS is too influenced by medicine and too little on service. He gave the example of how interest in inventing a new diabetes drug is much higher than constructing an efficient way of delivering this, even though the latter is also crucial to a successful treatment. (As John Craig has describes in his blog Radical efficiency in the regions some regions have turned their attention to service innovation)
This has led to Easton taking the interesting approach to innovation where he gives very little attention to the innovators, and instead dedicating the majority of his resources to ’the dissemination of innovation’.
’Getting institutions within the NHS to share and adopt best practice has in the past been like pushing water up a hill’ (Jim Easton)
At the same time he raised the use of utilizing the knowledge we already have, which is also one of the main points in Radical Efficiency. One example is patients who suffer from chronic diseases. We know that treating these in their own home is both cheaper as well as it is improving the patient experience. With this knowledge all that remains is asking the question, how do we deliver this?
In Radical Efficiency one of our recommendations is different sectors cooperating on solving common issues, such as doctors, schools and sports clubs cooperating on helping obese children loose weight. Easton recognized that many issues were interlinked, but that he would never fund social care or any other non hospital care related projects. As much as I understand Easton’s position, I think that there is a huge potential in a different funding structure in solving public service issues such as citizens needing both social and healthcare. It will be interesting to see what input the experiences from Total Place can bring to this debate.
There were are number of interesting points made by Easton, as well as the two other speakers, Steve Barnett, Chief exec of the NHS Confederation, and Prof. Patrick Dunleavy, LSE public policy group, too many to mention in this blog.
The overall impression I got from the seminar was, that in spite of the financial crisis and squeezed budgets, there is potential to save and improve through innovation. We have some of the measures in hand already, we just need to share and adopt them.
Easton ended the seminar by stating the very true challenge. Health service international is the last public service that has not yet been opened up to the user. That Google and Microsoft has not yet managed to break through and open it up says something about the strength of the system and the challenges that people who are seeking change face. I believe that Radical Efficiency could be an important tool in supporting this change.