The Young Foundation team were at the Health Innovation Expo last week, where the Excel Centre was buzzing with thousands of people talking about how the NHS can innovate. So above all the noise, what really caught our attention?
The model Dementia Village really captured the range of innovations being developed to help people with dementia, from the technology innovations such as the GP administered memory test from Cambridge Cognition, to the low tech but important search dogs that Kent Fire Brigade are now using to help them find people who are missing. In fact we liked both these innovations so much that we have asked them (and the dogs) to join us at an event in Kent showcasing dementia innovations on 24th April. Croquet and pingpong were in full swing in the village, demonstrating how we need to focus on what people with dementia can do and might actually enjoy. But it wasn’t just organisations and specialists plying their wares in the village. Sitting drinking coffee we were approached by a student from Swanhurst school in the West Midlands asking us about our knowledge of dementia. She was part of an inter-generational project where people with dementia, their carers and clinical staff are working with students in a senior school, as part of a project to help children understand more about dementia, breaking down barriers and reducing stigma.
Continuing the theme of breaking down barriers, the NHS Alliance launched their manifesto for primary care ‘Breaking Boundaries’ at the Expo. What is different about this document is the emphasis it places on primary care developing health and healthy communities, as well as treating disease. It encourages far-reaching partnerships between entities such as housing, fire and rescue services, faith groups, social enterprise, business leaders and the voluntary sector. A refreshing read, the manifesto also proposes that every patient should have a health and well-being plan and that data and IT should play a part in enabling patients and communities to share power to support their own health. All themes that mirror The Young Foundation’s thinking for the NHS, captured in publications on Data and the Patient and Civil Society and Health. It was good to feel that there was a groundswell of change towards individuals and communities acting as assets, a change we have been advocating for some time.
Adding to our thinking in this area, we launched ‘Dr Know: A Knowledge Commons in Health’ with Nesta at the Expo. We argue in it that society’s growing ability to mobilise knowledge from different fields and sources is beginning to show the potential of a ‘knowledge commons’ in healthcare: an open system of knowledge with researchers, practicing clinicians, patients, their families and communities all involved in capturing, refining and utilising a common body of knowledge in real time.
Launches, villages and dogs aside, our biggest observation from the hundreds of conversations we had over the two days was that, unlike two years ago, very few people were asking about how to support and stimulate innovation within the NHS. One positive interpretation is that perhaps people have learnt how to do this in the last two years? However what is more likely is that with the end of Strategic Health Authorities next week, and the NHS Commissioning Board still appointing to critical innovation posts, we are in a hiatus while the system beds down. Luckily some corporate memory will be retained – Mel Ogden and Bernie Stocks, who led highly effective innovation funds within two SHAs, will be working at the NHS Commissioning Board. There is much to learn from those Regional Innovation Funds, and our hope is that something similar emerges, in the new structures, to fire up and support the grass roots innovators and continue the critical innovations that will make a difference to the NHS of the future.