More regional ‘Digital Accelerators’ will help NHS modernise

A successful scheme to accelerate NHS uptake of digital technologies in London is to be expanded to other parts of the country.

The capital’s DigitalHealth.London Accelerator was first launched in 2016, and since then has worked with 61 companies, helped secure 27 research collaborations, and supported companies to launch 25 new products.

The scheme has also helped alumni secure more than £15 million in funding, and win 12 NHS contracts.

Because of the novel nature of digital products, most regional NHS organisations haven’t got established pathways for adopting these technologies.

At the same time, digital start-ups (aka small-to-medium companies or SMEs) often have a limited understanding of what the greatest areas of clinical need are in the health service.

London’s digital accelerator has helped bridge these divides with the aim of supporting start up companies and helping them to target their products at addressing real needs in healthcare.

Technologies which have emerged from the London scheme have included a smartphone app that cuts A&E waiting times, a digital lifestyle management platform that can reverse type 2 diabetes, and a “USB port for the body” that can host a bionic limb.

Now the accelerator will be launched across three more locations for the first time: the East Midlands, Manchester, and South West England.

Hannah Harniess

“When SMEs with fantastic products can’t access the NHS, it is patients that miss out,” says Hannah Harniess, programme director at DigitalHealth.London Accelerator.

“We’ve seen time and time again that digital technologies can make a major difference and help the NHS save resource – whether it’s slashing waiting times in A&E or helping people to manage long term conditions and live healthier lives.

“By taking our successful model to four new locations across the country, we know we’ll meet even more incredible companies with innovative products that can help the NHS.”
Building on this model, the successful SMEs in each new region will receive:

• One-to-one support from a designated “NHS Navigator”
• Specialist training
• Support with product development
• Opportunities to meet experts from business, clinical, and government backgrounds
• Regular opportunities to showcase their products with NHS decision-makers and influencers

Elliott Engers is chief executive of Infinity Health, a company which has received help from the London initiative. This allows healthcare teams to use iPhone and iPads to manage their caseload, but within a secure encrypted environment to protect patient confidentiality.

“Being a member of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator has been an extremely valuable experience for us,” he says.

“As a direct result of the programme we have had the opportunity to meet with senior NHS stakeholders in London. Additionally, we have had the privilege of working with the most experienced health economists and researchers in the country, allowing us to better understand the impact Infinity has on clinical practice and the research methodology necessary to develop a robust evidence-base for our core product.”

Wider uptake

One of the biggest obstacles remaining for companies selling digital products to the NHS is scaling up use – even if a pilot with new technology proves successful in one local network of trusts, other areas won’t adopt them automatically.

The Department of Health decided not to fight against this tendency, and has instead chosen a few national leaders to spearhead the adoption of digital tech.

The first wave of 12 Global Digital Exemplars were launched in 2016, with a further 18 English NHS acute trusts added to the programme last year.

Companies interested in taking part should in the Digital Health Accelerator can apply here

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