By | Posted 20/08/14 in Thoughts on Modern Healthcare

To present the formula in simple terms, growth of output per head determines living standards; and innovation, in turn, determines the growth of output per head. But what, precisely, determines innovation and entrepreneurship?

A recent report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), published in July, has sought to provide some answers to this vitally important question by looking at what can be done to increase high value entrepreneurship in the UK. The report from the SMF raises some serious issues for us – most notably, the UK has a low proportion of high-value entrepreneurs in its working-age population compared to other developed economies.

The report touches on a range of structural and institutional factors that may be related to this worrying finding, as well as proposing a series of changes at the policy level to try and unleash the potential entrepreneurial slack in the UK in order to boost innovation, productivity and economic growth.

Reading through the report, thoughts quickly turned to trying to assess the likely state and level of entrepreneurship – or perhaps more accurately intrapreneurship – in the NHS. The push to promote a more entrepreneurial spirit in the NHS has been well backed for some time now, as well as being partly enshrined in policy through the Government’s landmark Innovation, Health and Wealth report published in 2011.

In a concerted effort to ‘liberate’ the NHS, undoubted progress has been made in creating a service judged more on outcomes, providing greater choice and enabling a stronger voice for patients. But the scenario of a rising and ageing population coupled with growing healthcare needs and reducing budgets, means that the need for health innovators to better identify and exploit opportunities has not diminished.

Is ‘enterprise for all’ a truism in NHS organisations? Has QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) really become a way of life for frontline and managerial staff, where engagement, ideas, analysis and talent are all harnessed to enable services to work towards the best together? 

There are examples of formalised approaches to getting more entrepreneurship in the NHS. For example, the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is teaching the Ingenuity Process to 400 Nottinghamshire Healthcare staff as part of their Invest to Lead programme. Nottingham University Business School has undertaken research to examine whether NHS staff, irrespective of their day-to-day standing and duties, can be trained to become more innovative – or improve opportunity identification capability (OIC) to use their term.

The findings show that participants produced better quality ideas at the end of the training, with over half coming up with a greater quantity of ideas too. Critically, the results support the idea that OIC is not restricted to a ‘lucky few’. 

Successes of the likes of NHS Change Day have had a considerable and welcome impact, with stakeholders quick to laud a younger generation of leaders at the forefront of a digital revolution in the NHS. Much is made of a Generation Y that thinks differently and brings new attitudes, skill sets and values to the NHS workforce.

But innovation and entrepreneurship is obviously not just the preserve of the young. The most recent UK edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which analyses early-stage start-up activity, found that 6.5 per cent of Britons aged 50 and over are launching new ventures, the highest proportion yet, eclipsing the 6 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds starting up. We need programmes to support the broader development of innovation and entrepreneurship skills within the NHS, but equally we need programmes that engage the potential innovators already within the NHS at all levels.

The SMF report found that at least 50 per cent of all start-up ideas come from experience gained in past employment. With the wealth of cumulative experience available in the vast NHS workforce, there should be the expectation that the NHS should be leading the way as a high-value innovator.