Barriers to new innovation in the UK’s NHS – and how to overcome them – Part 1

While many barriers to new innovation in the NHS are well documented, the Nuffield Trust has released a report which looks at areas which have received less focus, and yet which are key to change.

Two of the main barriers listed were:

  • Lack of clinician time to identify problems, and to work with companies to provide solutions
  • Products are sought which lead to short-term savings, rather than transforming care pathways leading to more efficient services – I will discuss this in the next blog.

Lack of clinician time to identify problems and to help to work with innovators to find solutions is a problem which is certainly not limited to the NHS. All industries provide insufficient resources to allow staff the time, space and training to sit back and look at where problems are, and to work on solutions to those problems. In the NHS this leads to solutions being offered by companies which have not always been designed together with the clinicians, or the users of those products.

Nurses - starched caps
Two nurses wearing old fashioned starched caps

Sometimes a problem is identified and the solution put forward does resolve a problem, but causes another because the designer doesn’t work within the care setting. Although this isn’t a clinical product example, it underlines the problem well: In the 80s, some female nurses still wore starched fabric caps (male nurses were not required to as the fashion followed nurses originally being primarily nuns, and then the Victorian era of women needing a head covering). I well remember my own mother spending hours over the ironing board spraying starch onto her nursing caps. One day she told us that they were moving from the fabric cap to a disposable cardboard version (at a daily cost of 2p per cap to the NHS). Rather than working out whether the cap was a relic from the past which interfered with clinical care and should be removed from the uniform, the solution to the complaints of female nurses that they spent hours getting their caps stiff and sturdy was resolved with an expensive and pointless alternative product.

Aquabirths heart-shaped birth pool
Aquabirths’ Heart-Shaped Birth Pool

Aquabirths is lucky to have worked with midwives right from the start of the design of all of our birth pools. Pictured is our heart shaped birth pool  which was designed together with midwives from Leeds, Yorkshire, UK. They requested featured such as:

  • A freestanding pool to enable midwives and birth companions to be able to easily support the birthing woman from any side of the birth pool.
  • A larger birth pool to offer comfort and support to even the tallest women.
  • Smoothed edges to ensure comfort for women and midwives leaning over the edge of the birth pool, often for long periods of time.
  • A single surface birth pool to ensure that it can easily and thoroughly be cleaned.

Aquabirths continues to work with midwives and birthing women to ensure that our birth pools are  designed just how the users of our pools need them to be, and we hope to see more of a trend across the NHS to working this way with product manufacturers.

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