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Professor Tony Young, a consultant surgeon and National Clinical Lead for Innovation at NHS England appeared before the Lords Science and Technology Committee this week to discuss the barriers for adopting innovation in the NHS.

When questioned by Chairman Lord Patel on whether the NHS was poor at adopting innovation Professor Young was optimistic, pointing out that there were many examples of NHS adopting innovation successfully and a number of systems and structures in place to encourage this, including Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), test bed programmes and the National Innovation Accelerator. In particular, he reminded the Committee that AHSNs are still in their infancy and therefore required support and patience to thrive. He urged the Committee to remember that the NHS is the largest employer on the planet, and one that is struggling with the rise of chronic diseases and long-term condition and there are therefore several competing priorities in delivering good care.

When it came to comparing the NHS to the success of other international systems in implementing innovations, Professor Young noted that while the US does spend considerably more on the uptake of innovation, life expectancy was worse than that of the UK, and questioned the idea that spending vast amounts of money on innovation necessarily equated to a successful healthcare system.

The Committee asked Professor Young what he perceived to be the greatest barriers to the uptake and spread of innovative technologies, to which he suggested that the most important step in the spread of innovation was winning the hearts and minds of NHS staff. He disagreed with members of the Committee that uptake of certain innovations should be mandatory, instead suggesting that it would be more productive to empower a passionate workforce to embrace entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. He pointed to the work of the Clinical Entrepreneur Programme, which has given clinical staff the ability to be innovative within the system and provided them with ownership of delivering broader change. Professor Young suggested that ‘we need to create a mentality that prioritises innovation within the NHS’, stating that initiatives such as the Accelerated Access Review that focus on innovation, must be at the heart of the NHS’s key priorities.