Evaluating the Role and Contribution of Innovation to Health and Wealth in the UK

A Review of Innovation, Health and Wealth: Phase 1 Final Report

by Teresa Bienkowska-Gibbs, Josephine Exley, Catherine L. Saunders, Sonja Marjanovic, Joanna Chataway, Calum MacLure, Ruth McDonald, Tom Ling

This Article

RAND Health Quarterly, 2016; 6(1):7


The Department of Health’s Innovation, Health and Wealth (IHW) strategy aimed to introduce a more strategic approach to the spread of innovation across the NHS. This study represents the first phase of a three-year evaluation and aims to map progress towards the IHW strategy and its component actions. This evaluation used a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods: document review, key informant interviews and stakeholder survey. This study also forms the basis for selecting case studies for phase two of the evaluation.

Our findings from the interviews and survey suggest broad stakeholder support for the overarching ambitions of the IHW strategy. However, we found variable progress towards the overarching objectives of the eight IHW themes and an ambiguous relationship between many of the themes’ objectives and their actions.

It was difficult to assess progress on IHW’s actions as commitment to the actions, implementation guidance and expected outcomes of the actions were not clearly articulated. The Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) were reported to be working well, which may be attributed to their clear structures of accountability and earmarked budgets. However, survey respondents and interviewees raised concerns that budgetary pressures may limit the impact of both AHSNs and the SBRI. The main challenges identified for ongoing action were the resources available for their implementation (e.g. Medtech Briefings), lack of awareness of the initiative (e.g. the NICE Implementation Collaborative) and the design of the actions (e.g. the Innovation Scorecard, web portal and High Impact Innovations).

For more information, see RAND RR-1143-DH at https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1143.html

Full Text

The National Health Service (NHS), in common with most other healthcare systems in high-income countries, is under pressure to meet the growing demand for healthcare services with limited resources. NHS England anticipates that the population's need for healthcare services will continue to grow faster than the funding available for those services. The Department of Health has identified improving the uptake and diffusion of innovation within the NHS as a potential solution to this increasing demand. The Innovation, Health and Wealth (IHW) strategy makes the case that innovation can improve both quality and productivity and that, in the context of increasing demands for care in a financially constrained system, innovation can help improve efficiency, and thus the sustainability of the NHS. However, there is no single and agreed strategy to deliver innovation. Instead, a more plausible way forward may be to develop a variety of approaches, monitor and evaluate these, and ensure that learning is fed back into future actions. This variety of policy instruments and actors characterises IHW. Whether the IHW actions have been designed and planned effectively, and whether they were well delivered and actors effectively mobilised, are questions addressed in this evaluation.

This study covers the first phase of a three-year evaluation to determine whether IHW actions are (i) working as planned and (ii) delivering their intended outcomes.

Innovation, Health and Wealth: A Welcome Attempt to Address a Complex Policy Agenda

IHW is made up of eight core themes relating to different parts of the health system: 1) reducing variation and strengthening compliance with NICE guidance; 2) improving innovation uptake; 3) metrics and the accessibility of evidence and information about new ideas; 4) establishing a more systematic delivery mechanism for diffusion and collaboration within the NHS; 5) aligning incentives and investment to reward and encourage innovation and improving procurement; 6) encouraging a change in culture within the NHS and embedding innovation into training and education for both managers and clinicians; 7) strengthening leadership for innovation throughout the NHS and increasing local accountability; and 8) identifying and mandating the adoption of high impact innovations in the NHS. Under these eight core themes, the IHW strategy identified 32 actions that collectively aimed to improve the adoption and diffusion of innovation in the NHS.

Doubts were expressed by some interviewees and survey respondents about whether the package of measures and actions considered in this evaluation will in future be packaged within the IHW framework or whether the current alignment of policy initiatives will be reconfigured. However, there appears to be a consensus that innovation is vital to the NHS and that a variety of new actors and actions are necessary to understand how best to maximise positive benefits from technical and social change.

Interviewees echoed the view put forward in IHW documents that innovation is essential for the sustainability of the NHS. Interviewees were positive about the objectives that IHW set out to achieve and its recognition of the need to improve the uptake and diffusion of innovation in the NHS. Some survey respondents highlighted that IHW was an ambitious and innovative strategy in and of itself. However, underlying these positive views there is very limited available evidence that innovations have improved the quality of care in the NHS, improved productivity or saved costs. This study details both positive and negative feedback on IHW and also makes the case that shortage of evidence is in part a reflection of gaps in the available data, which raises the question of whether existing mechanisms for data collection and analysis are sufficiently well developed.

Was IHW Well Designed? A Need to Better Articulate and Communicate the Strategy

IHW was originally conceived as a national plan for embedding innovation into the NHS, but it evolved into a more fluid mechanism for supporting innovation. In innovation strategies there are many varied policy instruments and multiple actors that create a complex landscape where there is a high likelihood of inconsistencies and redundancies. It is important to understand the success, or otherwise, of IHW in this light and not to use a yardstick of unattainable coherence, consistency and strategic uniformity. It is unsurprising that IHW evolved in unanticipated ways and that some actions seem to have been successful while others have slipped from view.

However, from the original documentation it appears that such flexibility and adaptation was only weakly locked into the design of the programme. This is a pity because the diversity contained within IHW does appear to have been built on some sound foundations. The eight IHW themes were not arbitrary, but rather built on stakeholder engagement and judgements of what was feasible and acceptable. They also reflect an appreciation of the diverse barriers to innovation in the NHS. However, the causal chain linking the actions to delivering innovation is unclear. The current scope (or even continued existence) of IHW was also unclear.

In including a variety of actions and approaches, IHW reflected the realities of supporting innovation in the healthcare system. However, the impression from stakeholders is that the evolution of IHW has not been sufficiently informed by an overall strategic sense of direction, has not been effectively communicated and is not grounded in learning and emerging evidence which would facilitate better communication.

Did IHW Deliver Its Intended Outcomes? Patchy Evidence and a Need for New Frameworks and Metrics

Progress towards the overarching objectives of the eight IHW themes has been variable. Interestingly, assessment of progress does not appear entirely straightforward. In the case of themes 1 (reducing variation and strengthening compliance), 2 (metrics and information) and 5 (procurement), respondents reported positive progress towards some of the actions within the themes, but not others, such that overall progress towards the theme's objectives was mixed. For themes 3 (creating a system for delivery of innovation) and 8 (high impact innovations), respondents reported some progress on almost all of the actions within the theme, and towards the theme's overarching objectives. For themes 4 (incentives and investment), 6 (developing our people) and 7 (leadership for innovation) there appears to be an ambiguous relationship between the theme's objectives and its actions. For themes 6 and 7 positive progress was reported towards the themes' objectives and this was attributed to IHW, even though we found little progress on the implementation of any of the actions within the themes, while for theme 4 very little progress was reported towards the theme's objective, despite positive progress being made towards two out of the three actions. For theme 1, while most respondents reported improvements in compliance with NICE guidance, few survey respondents attributed these improvements to IHW or reported there to have been overall improvements in reducing variation in care.

A number of challenges exist in the assessment of many of IHW's actions and objectives. Some actions have been completed, but IHW's ongoing involvement in, and the expected outcomes of, those actions is not clear. Similarly, some actions have been implemented, but it is often still too early to assess their impact because they were not expected to deliver measurable outcomes in the short term. This variability in the implementation of individual actions may stem in part from the paucity of implementation guidance and ongoing monitoring for the individual IHW actions.

Overall, achieving progress in terms of the aims of IHW and each of its eight themes is more complex than simply implementing the actions within those themes. The relationship between actions and achievement of intended outcomes within IHW is not linear and progress is mixed (see Table 1). Furthermore, where there has not been measurable progress towards actions or themes, the IHW strategy may nonetheless have been important as a symbol of the shift towards innovation in the NHS.

Table 1. Summary of Progress Towards IHW Actions

Action Status
Theme 1: Reduce variation and strengthen compliance
NICE Compliance Regime (Publication of NHS Formularies, NICE guidance called “Medicines Practice Guideline”) Active
NICE Implementation Collaborative Active; pilot stage
Theme 2: Metrics and information
Clinical Practice Research Database (CPRD) datalink Established March 2012
Innovation Compass Active; pilot stage
Innovation Scorecard Active
Web Portal (Innovation Exchange) Active
Which? Consumer campaign Not implemented
Theme 3: Creating a system for delivery of innovation
Academic Health and Science Networks (AHSNs) Established May 2013
Sunset Review Not published
Innovation Technology Adoption Procurement Programme (iTAPP) (renamed Medtech Innovation Briefings) Active
Theme 4: Incentives and investment
Aligning incentives Active
Innovation Challenge Prizes Active
Never Events List updated in February 2012
Specialised Services Commissioning Innovation Fund (SSCIF) Suspended
Theme 5: Procurement
Intellectual Property Strategy Not published
Procurement Strategy Published May 2012
Small Business Research Initiative Active
Theme 6: Developing our people
Hardwiring innovation into education and competency frameworks Not documented
Innovation Fellowship Scheme (renamed NHS Innovation Accelerator) Competition opened January 2015
Joint industry and NHS training for senior managers—ITW Innovation Network ITW network established. No information on content or outputs
Theme 7: Leadership for innovation
CCG legal duty Written into Health and Social Care Act, March 2013
Innovation Pipeline Project Launched in February 2012. Ongoing progress not clear
NHS Operating Framework Superseded
Strengthening Leadership and Accountability Strengthening Leadership and Accountability for Innovation published August 2013
Theme 8: High Impact Innovations
High Impact Innovations (HIIs) Varies by area
CQUIN pre-qualification Superseded by Service Development and Improvement Plan

The research described in this article was funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme was conducted by RAND Europe.

RAND Health Quarterly is produced by the RAND Corporation. ISSN 2162-8254.