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Report identifies barriers to healthtech innovation



Former minister Nicola Blackwood says it is difficult to extend implementation of successful pilots in digital healthcare

A series of barriers are standing in the way of technology innovation in healthcare, but it is possible to break them down by focusing on some of the priorities of the NHS, according to a new report.

The Promise of Healthtech, authored by former health minister Nicola Blackwood and published by tech start-up incubator Public, highlights the potential in new digital innovations to support the long term sustainability of the health service, but says it is still very risk-averse.

As a result, it is very difficult to extend successful pilots to a wider take-up.

Speaking at the launch event, Blackwell (pictured) said: “Lack of clarity about evidence is a real problem. Companies have to prove again and again, CCG by CCG, why they make good business and clinical sense. We need one standard of what good looks like.”

The report says this makes it difficult for innovators to scale from one trust to another, as each may impose different standards.

It identifies a series of other barriers, including fast changing regulations of digital health products and citing the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and new Care and Quality Commission powers to rate non-NHS online GPS. This makes it harder for start-ups to keep up with regulatory standards and ensure their products comply.

The other major barriers are:

  • Slow procurement in many parts of the NHS, often tailored to dealing with large IT vendors.
  • Partial interoperability, with many systems failing to talk to each other.
  • Unclear data security standards, especially in a lack of clarity over compliance with the GDPR.
  • Limited change management and digital skills, with wide variations in the capability across the NHS.

The report says there needs to be a strong effort to overcome these, and that start-ups should focus on specific priorities of the NHS to make progress. These include procurement and productivity, recruitment and training, prevention, winter pressures and supporting self-care, artificial intelligence in pathology and radiology, patient safety, mental health, social care and research.

Being smart

Blackwell concluded in her speech: “It’s not just about the NHS changing, but about start-ups being smart and targeting the areas where the NHS needs innovation the most.

“By partnering between the NHS and an incredibly successful healthcare sector we will see better care for patients and a more sustainable NHS and the UK being a world leader in healthtech.”

The report has received the support of Lord O’Shaugnessy, under secretary of state at the Department of Health and Social Care. He said the department and NHS England are carrying out a review of the innovation landscape that deals with issues raised in the report.

Image by HM Government, OGL 3

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