When developing staff innovations becomes the norm, that’s when you transform care | Elaine Williams

Elaine Williams

A culture of supporting and developing frontline innovations is yielding profound and wide-ranging results at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Here the trust's Listening into Action lead shares how. 

This post was prompted by a tweet from the NHS Confederation in which Jason Helgerson threw down the gauntlet to “all who care about the NHS is to innovate – even in the face of funding challenges.” 

For a number of years now, Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (BHFT) has been developing a culture of bottom-up change and quality improvement, led by the staff who know what’s needed to improve patient experience. Patients and carers have been included in this cultural shift, which has massive support from the CEO and senior leaders.  

This way of implementing change has gained momentum and become the normal way of working in BHFT. 

Building on this momentum, and listening to staff who said they were unsure how to talk about ideas and innovations, BHFT developed an innovations pipeline called ‘Bright Ideas’. This pipeline has continually developed and is currently a three-stage model which supports staff to move their ideas forward. 

The first and most used stage connects people across the organisation with colleagues who can support staff members to bring their ideas to life. To give you an example of how this works, it was as this stage when I connected a couple people who had submitted ideas about cost savings in relation to printer cartridges and ink. 

While on the surface this may not appear to be innovative, this was a complex problem: we have 100 sites hosting multiple teams and no one central supplier of all things inky. Some teams owned their printers and copiers; others had individual contracts with a variety of suppliers (legacy from having merged from three organisations to one some years ago). 

The innovators were passionate about sorting out our inky problem and this resulted in them setting up a freecycle page on our intranet. Teams are now using this to advertise other items as well as printers and ink. 

While it originally appeared to be a problem with multiple obstacles, connecting the right people with the right passions and determination resulted in a great solution for our inky problem.

At the second stage, a small team is brought together around an initiator to enable them to further develop their idea, assembling, for example, the web team, communications and some financial support to take forward an idea.  

A prime example is when a member of staff developed an education package, ‘Great Apples’, to support staff in care homes to develop their skills through an evidence-based education package. This package required some financial and branding support and has been successfully launched within local authority care homes. 

The third stage of the pipeline brings on board the organisation’s business team, among others.

In order to launch this pipeline, BHFT hosted an innovation event in February 2015 – titled We Are Brighter Together #brightertogether – using the principles of the paper clip challenge. The event provided space for staff to daydream ideas and pitch to our ferociously friendly dragons in their den.  

Building on the momentum and energy from this event, BHFT hosted its second #brightertogether event in July 2016.  This year incorporated an innovation lab, using the principles of a hackathon to work out how our inpatient mental health services became excellent.  

We held a bazaar, where staff showcased excellent practice and had the opportunity to network, connect and consider collaborative approaches and developments. There were multiple opportunities to develop ideas throughout the event. 

We also had a dragons den, with a queue of people ready to pitch ideas. One has been picked up by Oxford Academic Health Science Network, and a design and product spec is being sourced. 

TED-style presentations from staff describing innovation in their service areas – with topics ranging from ‘the Uberfication of healthcare’ to ‘from the coat hanger to wearable technology’ – filled the main conference space. Staff described with passion how they have improved the services we provide using technology and connecting physical and mental health services.

The programme can be found on the BHFT website.  The event was live streamed so that staff who couldn’t make the day could watch. There were more than 800 views throughout the day.

We care about the NHS and that’s why we’re innovating – even in the face of funding challenges. If you wish to find out more, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Elaine Williams is the Listening into Action lead at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Follow her and the trust on Twitte @ElaineW_LiA @BHFT and catch up on the conversations at the #brightertogether events.

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