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Innovate UK

The NHS at 70 – driven by innovation past, present and future

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Funding, ISCF, Support

Many things have contributed to the NHS’s success, not least the vital role of innovation in treatment, equipment and process.

Happy Birthday NHS, from - alongside many, many others - everyone at Innovate UK!

Splash of dark blue with 70 shown in light blue.

The NHS is one of our most loved institutions and something that we all feel passionate about.  We’ve all used it – as a mother of two young children I’d definitely put myself in the frequent flyer category!

Hard-working talented people are the NHS’s proud hallmark, but we should also celebrate the role of innovation, critical to its longevity and continued success.

Many routes to innovation

Such innovation doesn’t always have to be high-tech.  In could be innovation in process or a new way of doing things.

As an aspiring runner I was really interested to see that last month the Royal College of General Practitioners has teamed up with Parkrun in a groundbreaking initiative that could see thousands of patients and staff being prescribed outdoor physical activity rather than medication.

This is expected to be particularly beneficial for those who are less active or who have long term health conditions.

Heart rate monitor screen showing a heart rate and a runner outline.

Innovation in the first 70 years

The UK has a proud heritage of inventing the future and innovations generated on home soil have been key in defining the first 70 years of the NHS. These include:

  • Rapid DNA sequencing which has given rise to modern day diagnostics (Sanger sequencing)
  • The development of anti-rejection therapies which have paved the way for organ transplants
  • The Charnley type hip replacement, the first modern and practical hip replacement
  • The CT scanner which pioneered machines that could produce detailed imagery of the inside of the body to aid diagnosis and treatment – for the first time without the need for the injection of harmful liquids or gasses.
  • In vitro fertilisation, better known as IVF, is now a standard procedure to assist people with fertility problems.

Helping businesses crack the NHS

It is notoriously difficult for individual businesses to have new products and services adopted into the NHS.

Innovate UK predominately funds businesses, but we also support them directly, and through the Knowledge Transfer Network, to navigate the various elements of the public sector infrastructure to boost their chance of success.

Just one recent example of this approach achieving results is Oxford company Brainomix, which has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system using brain images which then support fast and consistent stroke diagnosis.  Brain damage can be identified from CT scans in just two minutes to determine whether an individual has had a stroke.

This company has received funding from Innovate UK via the Biomedical Catalyst and the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) and their system has been adopted by Northwick Park hospital as well as now being trialled in several other hospitals.

Scan image held in the hands of an NHS worker.

Innovating the future of healthcare

There is no doubt innovation will continue to revolutionise healthcare of the future.

One area showing particular promise, and which Innovate UK has funded since 2007, is cell and gene therapy.  Unlike conventional medicines, cell and gene therapies offer game-changing treatments which repair, replace, regenerate and re-engineer genes, cells and tissues to restore normal function, sometimes offering cures where no alternatives exist.

These therapies are so novel that new systems are needed to deliver them into the NHS and beyond.  Innovate UK, with support from the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, has established a UK network of Advanced Therapy Treatment Centres, as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), to bring these revolutionary treatments into the NHS and provide opportunities for our strong UK business sector.

Treatments like this will most likely be commonplace within the next 70 years.

A person working in a laboratory dropping liquid into a test tube.

Innovation in medicines manufacturing

The ISCF, part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, is allowing Innovate UK, as part of the UK Research and Innovation family, to support and invest in many other vital healthcare innovations. These give great platforms to UK-based businesses to help address some of our most pressing societal challenges.

We have just announced a joint investment with the Scottish government, and founding industry partners AstraZeneca and GSK, in a UK-first Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre, helping to shape the future of manufacturing in small molecule pharmaceuticals.

Doctors and patients shown against a background of connected services icons.

Innovation in digital pathology and radiology

And only last month we opened a competition to invest up to £50 million in a network of up to six Centres of Excellence in digital pathology and imaging, including radiology.  These centres, using digital systems and artificial intelligence (AI), will help diagnose deadly diseases earlier and select the best individual therapies for patients through precision treatments.

We hope the new centres, once chosen, will be able to start their programmes across the UK by the end of 2018.

So, congratulations NHS on 70 wonderful years.  With innovation continuing to open up new possibilities for new and better healthcare for us all, here’s to the next 70!


Kath is interim Director Ageing Society, Health & Nutrition at Innovate UK, you can follow Kath on Twitter: @kath_mackay   or connect on LinkedIn

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