Clinical leaders can boost innovation – here’s how | Raj Purewal

Raj Purewal

Raj Purewal from the NHS innovation experts TRUSTECH shares the best ways clinical leaders can encourage innovation with far-reaching impact.

Innovation is essential in ensuring a bright, sustainable future for the NHS. The support and encouragement clinical leaders bestow upon their teams can mean the difference between ideas remaining permanently dormant and ones that successfully impact healthcare in the UK – and possibly even worldwide.

Encouraging creativity and innovation features high on the healthcare agenda and there remains tremendous scope to push existing efforts further. So how can clinical leaders boost innovative ideas and promote creative thinking within the workforce?

Culture
Firstly, organisations need conditions that both support and build an innovative culture. Working environments that encourage a flow of ideas, and adopt an innovative spirit, can help create an inspired workforce and lay the all-important foundations for ‘eureka’ moments to begin life

Research indicates that the seven dimensions of organisational culture – risk taking, resources, information, targets, tools, rewards and relationships – are related to the level of innovation. So it’s important to take each area into consideration and think about the steps that could be taken to help develop an innovative culture. 

For instance, ensure everyone is spurred on to raise ideas, no matter how big, small, simple or complex. Encourage conversations to raise awareness of innovation and creative thought, and get your workforce to think of better ways of undertaking day-to-day tasks, with the aim of improving services, creating better quality patient care and improving efficiencies.

Remember collaboration is key. Don’t let staff feel isolated in their quest for new ideas: talking with colleagues or patients helps people understand the impact of their ideas, though they need to be aware of the importance of confidentiality. Inspire teams to constantly ask themselves whether there is a simpler way to do things, and perhaps even challenge and incentivise staff by organising competitions. 

Try also to provide as much information on the many facets of innovation as possible. Staff training, videos and links to other organisations’ websites, for instance, are all great sources of help and advice.

So how do these elements translate into innovative outputs?

Ideas from the frontline
Some of the most impactful NHS innovations come from or around the frontline. Two healthcare professionals turned innovators who have already identified a clinical issue in their field of expertise are working with TRUSTECH on innovative solutions. 

As a clinical leader herself, Dr Sarah Haynes from the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust knows only too well the importance of capturing and encouraging ideas. She co-invented the surgical swabwasher (SwabTech Ltd), a swab-washing device to enable better red blood cell salvage during operations and reduce the reliance on blood donation services. 

This innovation overcomes the limitations of existing swab-washing techniques currently being used, and a prototype is being trialled in a real-life NHS theatre setting. As the manufacturing phase is now approaching, it is hoped the product will be used in practice within the next 18 months across mainstream healthcare.

Similarly, Dr Shazia Hafiz identified a problem that junior doctors often experience – the difficulty of carrying essential items during their day-to-day roles. From bleeps, stethoscopes and mobile phone chargers, to tablets, pocket guides and even snacks, there are several items junior doctors need quick access to during the day. 

At the time of invention, Shazia was a junior doctor. She purchased a bag from a high-street shop to store her items but was subsequently told by infection control nurses that it was not allowed. As a result, Shazia worked in collaboration with scientists at the University of Manchester and created a low infection risk solution to carry the items required during training. Following trials, the final product will soon be available.

Innovation impact
Not only is innovation valuable to the NHS organisation involved, it proves incredibly rewarding for the individuals behind the idea in a number of ways, as well as for the NHS itself, and ultimately the patients.  

Solutions that make it into mainstream healthcare meet the growing expectations placed on our NHS, and make a real difference to patient outcomes, creating happier and healthier patients and communities.

Since the dawn of mankind, we have been having ideas that have helped make our lives better, and it is the realisation of some of the best ideas that have shaped the world we live in today. Let’s keep the ideas ‘pipeline’ flowing and encourage teams to share their ideas to harness the benefits of successful innovation.

Raj Purewal is director of business development and partnerships at TRUSTECH. Follow the organisation on Twitter @TRUSTECH_NHS

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