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The first of its kind in the NHS: Chief Innovation Officer

Shane_DeGaris-smlShane Degaris, CEO, The Hillingdon Hospital NHS Foundation Trust writes a guest piece on his ongoing ambitions and the current opportunity to rethink healthcare as part their redevelopment and new partnerships.

Recently I reminded myself of the humble beginnings of two of the most prominent organisations and arguably one of the most recognised products of our time:  Google began in 1996 as a university research project exploring the mathematical properties of the World Wide Web; Amazon joined the internet in 1998 as an online book seller; Apple faced objection to the Iphone as it didn’t have a physical keyboard.

I question; how have these organisations pushed the boundaries and barriers of their constraints and continued to grow year on year, driving new innovations? How have they scaled up their vision and delivered solutions for populations that can be apprehensive of change?

In recent PwC research ‘The talent challenge: Harnessing the power of human skills in the machine age’, 61per cent of CEOs globally said that innovation is now a pressing priority.

Coming from my public sector healthcare background I’m often challenged on making comparisons between the NHS and the private sector; that the environments are non-comparable and we in the NHS are far from a position to push the boundaries like the Tim Cooks (Apple.Inc CEO), Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) or Sundar Pichais (Google.Inc CEO) of this world.

Poignant Publications

The term innovation has a growing social traction in healthcare. Poignant publications from The Kings Fund and the Nuffield Trust exploring the concept, delivery and future of innovation have helped to drive it up the health and care agenda:
‘NHS innovations delivered dramatic improvements by improving access to services for the most vulnerable and neglected patient groups….It was also striking that many innovations achieved improvements by addressing different underlying needs to traditional health and care services.

However, they have also confirmed what we have known for some time – that simply ‘pushing’ innovation into the NHS in the hope it will transform services is naïve and unrealistic. The adoption of innovation is, in fact, extremely challenging and takes more work and focus than some might think.

Galvanise and nurture

As a leader in the NHS, I am striving to explore how we can galvanise and nurture an innovative culture amidst a landscape of innovation being ‘frequently seen as a luxury, only to be attempted when everything else is going well rather than as a core part of improving quality and efficiency.’ Or worse, when all too often innovation never reaches its full potential ‘how can organisations avoid getting stuck in innovation pilot purgatory?’

From these reports, my own experience, and through seeing first-hand the work of Imperial College Health Partners – our local partnership focused on driving the adoption and spread of innovation in healthcare – I believe it is key that in order for innovation to get out of ‘purgatory’ it needs to be pulled, and needs to be cultivated.

How do we in healthcare nurture an ecosystem that creates this pull? How do we both build a conducive environment where innovative ideas can take root, flourish and yield but also create capacity for our staff to work together in a different way, to take a step back to think, and do, differently?

This is a long game

At Hillingdon we are working hard to create this environment. We recognise that this is a long game… Apple doesn’t just stop with their latest tech release, google doesn’t define success through webpage hits, nor should the NHS ever stop striving forward. The key to success is embracing change, nurturing innovation and creating the head space for growth and transformation.

Our ongoing ambitions and current opportunity to rethink healthcare as part of our redevelopment and new partnership ‘The future of healthcare: Hillingdon Academic Centre for Health Sciences’.

“To create a unique system of integrated health and social care. One where innovation can thrive, where ground-breaking research is undertaken and rapid testing and prototyping is enabled. Here services are genuinely wrapped around the patient.”

Our new centre will be the first of its kind in this country, the integrated system will be housed and designed around the needs of the population and learns from the best international practice. This is a trail-blazing concept as more of the same is just not an option. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

We are at the start of this exciting journey; we have a long way to go to build capacity and partnerships for innovation to truly flourish. This is why I am excited to be recruiting a new role to our senior leadership team – the Chief Innovation Officer (CINO). This being one of the first of its kind in the NHS, it will lead innovation across a range of workstreams, and align our activities towards building a robust innovation ecosystem.

The CINO will be a key role. However, the key will be creating an environment alongside that values, allows and enables our innovators and intrapraneurs to flourish for the benefit of the populations we serve. The role will have board oversight of the innovation process and will drive Hillingdon forward as a leader in innovation in healthcare, making a fundamental difference for our patients and the future of healthcare.

Passion for the future

I’m not alluding that this is the new Apple.Inc or this CINO is the new Steve Jobs, I am though sharing with you my passion for the future of healthcare where innovation is at its heart. Steven Pinker recently said in an FT interview that “sometimes society advances funeral by funeral”; our ambition is to prove him wrong.

You can view and apply for the CINO role here.