The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare Programme
An evaluation of programme activities, outcomes and impacts
An evaluation of the SBRI Healthcare programme reviewed its aims and activities, explored its outcomes and impact, and examined the challenges and opportunities it faces. SBRI funding applicants and other stakeholders surveyed for the study reported that the programme is providing effective support for small companies to develop innovations that address NHS needs.
The study found the SBRI Healthcare programme performs a valuable role for the NHS in the early-stage innovation funding landscape. However, because some businesses have asked for more support taking innovations to the NHS, Academic Health Science Networks need clear guidance about how they could support SBRI-supported companies.
The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare programme has been funded by NHS England since 2013. It aims to address unmet needs in the NHS and promote economic growth in the UK by providing support to small companies developing relevant new products and services.
The SBRI Healthcare programme started in 2008 (initially run by the Department of Health and Strategic Health Authorities with support from the Technology Strategy Board) and runs themed competitions, normally two per year, that are focused on addressing healthcare needs that have been identified on the basis of consultations with NHS staff and other stakeholders. Over the last three years (2013/2014 through 2015/2016), the SBRI Healthcare programme has awarded an average of £17.5 million per year of funding to support small businesses in the UK.
The evaluation reviewed the aims and activities of the SBRI Healthcare scheme, explored the outcomes and impacts of the programme, and examined the challenges and opportunities it faces. The evaluation also draws on practical insights about how the SBRI Healthcare programme is contributing to the innovation process and how it could be supported in the future.
The study was commissioned by the UK Department of Health Policy Research Programme and is related to a wider two-year study of innovation in the NHS being conducted by RAND Europe and the University of Manchester.
The evaluation is based primarily on evidence gathered during May to November 2016 through a series of surveys and interviews. This involved:
- A survey of successful applicants who were representatives of organisations that were awarded SBRI Healthcare funding during 2009 to 2015.
- A survey of unsuccessful applicants who were representatives of organisations that applied unsuccessfully for SBRI Healthcare funding during 2009 to 2015.
- Telephone interviews with 16 stakeholders who were representatives of NHS Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), the healthcare and technology industry, innovation networking organisations, and the SBRI Healthcare programme delivery team.
- Telephone interviews with five funding recipients who were representatives of companies that were awarded SBRI Healthcare funding and responded to the survey of successful applicants.
- The survey and interview findings show that the SBRI Healthcare programme is providing effective support for small companies to develop innovations that address NHS needs.
- The SBRI Healthcare programme is seen by many respondents as being well-run, in particular in terms of effective processes for identifying and articulating healthcare needs and a reasonable administrative burden.
- Over 90 per cent of successful applicants, and nearly 70 per cent of unsuccessful applicants, who responded to the surveys, said that they would apply to another SBRI Healthcare competition in the future. This can be seen as a vote of some confidence from the small businesses that have been in contact with the programme.
- Although study participants felt that it was still too early to identify impacts on patients and the NHS, a range of expected impacts were reported by awardees, including potential NHS cost savings in the tens of millions.
- The study noted that addressing the needs of the NHS entails goes beyond innovation development to include uptake and the use of innovations. SBRI Healthcare awardees reported facing obstacles around the uptake of their products, including resistance to innovation within the NHS, complex and bureaucratic procurement systems and a shortage of resources to complete development and obtain regulatory approval.
- Some businesses expressed a desire for SBRI Healthcare to do more to support them in helping their product to be taken up by the NHS. However, this is seen by the SBRI Healthcare team as being predominantly the role of the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), which help to lead SBRI Healthcare calls and support companies in their region.
- Overall, the study found that the SBRI Healthcare programme performs a valuable role for the NHS in the early-stage innovation funding landscape. Going forward it will be important to consider how best to coordinate the SBRI Healthcare programme with wider policy developments (including the Accelerated Access Review) and initiatives to progress the adoption, diffusion and scale-up in the NHS of the innovations it supports.
- Ensure that the AHSNs are well informed about who the SBRI Healthcare-supported companies are in their region and their stage of development.
- Ensure there is clear guidance for the AHSNs about how they could support SBRI-supported companies.
- Provide networking opportunities for companies to learn from one another.
- Explore opportunities to engage with other national and regional funding programmes