Encouraging technology innovation to solve problems for Government

A few days ago I hosted an interesting seminar in the House of Lords on “Tackling Transmission of Healthcare-Associated Infections”.  The purpose of this was to bring together policy-makers on the subject from within the Department of Health, representatives from the voluntary sector and involved service users, researchers and legal experts, front-line NHS practitioners, and a number of Parliamentary colleagues to discuss what has been achieved and what are likely to be challenges in the future.

There were some interesting points made in the discussion, such as the need to empower patients to challenge doctors and nurses about whether they have washed their hands, and some excellent comments such as “Anyone who doubts Darwin should look at how pathogens respond to antibiotics”.

However, I was particularly pleased to hear a contribution from Sandra Barrow, the leader of the Department of Health’s Healthcare Associated Infection (HCAI) Technology Programme.  She described how the Programme is aiming to speed up the process of identifying useful technological innovations that can help deal with HCAIs, encouraging front-line NHS staff to work with industry to develop innovations, and then fast-tracking the evaluation process so that innovations can be utilised more rapidly.

The Programme recognises that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will often provide the most innovative ideas, but may also face the greatest difficulty in getting their ideas developed and adopted in the NHS.  The Programme has involved workshops involving 500 frontline NHS staff and a road show engaging with a similar number of SMEs to identify the most promising technologies for reducing and preventing HCAIs.  Several hundred ideas and products emerged from this process which have then been assessed by an expert panel to identify a short-list of products that are being evaluated in eight showcase hospitals.

The ideas emerging include innovative air disinfection technology, new infection detection techniques and the use of nano-technology to provide anti-bacterial protection layers for surfaces.

What excited me about this was the way it recognised that SMEs are a key engine for innovation and the way in which emerging innovations were being rapidly appraised and assessed for early adoption.

The approach being taken, like the INSTINCT programme designed to harness new innovative technologies to address challenges in counter-terrorism, demonstrates how Government can work with industry, especially SMEs, to make the best of British scientific ideas.

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