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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. What Innovations Will Have the Most Impact over the Next 70 Years?

In light of the 70th birthday of the NHS, one question I have been commonly asked is, ‘What innovations will have the most impact over the next 70 years?’. If that question had been asked in 1948, would anyone have been able to predict the many advances that have transformed healthcare, almost beyond recognition? However, if we look at some of the innovations in the last decade or so I think the direction of travel and key areas for transformation can be identified.

When I first started in my role four years ago, I was only approached by a handful of companies utilising machine-learning and AI; this year I have already met with over 100.

There can be no doubt that AI will have a significant role in the future of healthcare. Similarly, work had just begun on the 100,000 Genome Project - and we will deliver on that promise this year. To build on the project, the NHS Genomic Medicine Service will support the next phase of the Government’s ambitious vision for genomics by sequencing up to 500,000 whole genomes over the next five years. In addition to AI and genomics, many other technologies are set to have a significant impact, including digital health, predictive analytics, advanced/semi-autonomous robotics, social networking, connected devices, virtual and augmented reality, drones and block chain. Embracing advances in technology will be a key component allowing us to move from a reactive and intermittent care service for the sick to a proactive and continuous healthcare service.

So, with that in mind, what does this mean for those in the system that are tasked with supporting the development and adoption of innovation in the NHS? Innovation is not just about generating good ideas - we’ve never been short of those - it’s about aligning priorities and supporting the culture of adoption and spread. Nationally, this means creating the conditions for new innovations, whatever they may be, to flourish and spread by signalling these better to the wider system, and enhancing and simplifying each stage of the innovation pipeline from the research lab to routine uptake.

We must build upon the strong track record of research within the NHS to maximize the benefits to patients, by increasing the number of participants and simplifying the NHS research processes. But this must be done in tandem with the better articulation of the NHS’s own research priorities. Steps toward these have already been made, such as the publication of NHS England’s Research Needs Assessment 2018 in collaboration with National Institute of Health Research.

We want to lead the world in being able to develop and adopt proven and affordable interventions, rapidly and effectively at scale. Building on our existing strengths, this means continuing to support real-world testing, speeding up adoption through accelerators, and aligning incentives. The recently relicensed Academic Health Science Networks will be a key part of our support offer for innovation from proof-of-readiness for national spread to export support.

Ultimately, the NHS’s greatest asset is its workforce. To unleash its potential, we must improve capability and capacity to support our innovators as well as promoting adopters of innovations. When we launched the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme in 2016, I would not have dared to predict what our Clinical Entrepreneurs would accomplish with little more than a badge of permission and a safe space to innovate. Having just entered Year three, we have now recruited over 360 Clinical Entrepreneurs from across the front line and what they have achieved whilst still working in the NHS is remarkable.

The Long-Term Plan for the NHS will set out the changes we need to see in the way we deliver healthcare over the next 10 years. I am confident that innovation will be a key enabler in making it a reality.

Professor Tony Young, National Clinical Lead for Innovation, NHS England