A CCG is following a Dragons’ Den style model to find fresh ideas for delivering care smartly and economically
The popular BBC show, Dragons’ Den which is well known for helping entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life, has inspired clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to put their ideas forward and produce newer ways of working. Dragons’ Den-style initiatives are increasingly being held by schools, hospitals and councils to encourage people to step forward with bright ideas for desperately needed efficiency savings. Trustech, an NHS organisation that assists the development of innovative products and services, has been tailoring this concept to work in CCGs.
Throughout the NHS, countless innovations remain under the radar and fail to reach CCG’s key decision-makers. And organisations with technologies that could benefit the NHS have a number of hurdles to negotiate, and may not get very far if they do not have the resources of large commercial organisations. With the Dragons’ Den initiative, Trustech aims to provide a framework to simplify the process, open the doors to innovators and build relationships with disciplines outside the NHS.
Dragons’ Den in practice
The first CCG to use a Trustech Dragons’ Den programme was NHS Oldham CCG, and its experience illustrates how well the approach works. Oldham is acknowledged as an innovative CCG, but it wanted a better way to engage with individual entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized organisations. The traditional way of doing things was not producing the results Oldham needed within an acceptable period of time, and this newer way provided a fast track to identify innovations. The CCG has already completed many stages of the process, and is now in final evaluations of the selected innovations.
Meanwhile, NHS Salford CCG is just beginning its journey. Salford is offering the opportunity to bid for a share of a £450,000 fund. Shortlisted applicants, who will be invited to pitch to the Dragons, will be revealed in November.
Unlike the TV show, CCGs do not require a stake in the company in return for the financial support they provide.
In the hot seat
So how does it work in practice? What has Oldham done, and what awaits Salford and other CCGs wishing to follow a similar approach?
Oldham’s journey started with a call for innovations, in which ideas had to be submitted within certain criteria and a specific time frame. More than 200 medical technology companies applied – the competition was nearly five times oversubscribed. Trustech then helped identify the most promising ideas for the longlist.
Trustech then developed and held a market place event for Oldham to present longlisted projects to a borough-wide audience of CCG management, clinical staff, patients and relevant locality stakeholders from health and social care. These stakeholders and a selection of key voters then helped select the shortlist that would go forward to the Dragons’ Den event.
The Dragons comprised of members of the CCG’s management executive team, governing body members and other key healthcare stakeholders, including patients. They sat behind a desk, with pen and paper at the ready. However unlike the television show, which allocates just three minutes for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas, the Oldham participants were given 30-minute slots to run through their presentations and showcase their ideas.
Nerves and excitement prevailed as the candidates demonstrated their benefits and purpose, and answered questions about sustainability, cost-effectiveness and the potential to improve healthcare.
To get to the next phase, presentations had to demonstrate how the ideas could make life better for patients and address a genuine need. Further due diligence will be done on shortlisted entries, and if all is well they will receive an offer to proceed to the next stage. If all checks are passed, they are offered a funded evaluation in an NHS setting. This enables CCGs to assess how the innovations could work in practice, and the evaluation results then determine which projects could be commissioned subject to procurement rules.
The ideas submitted tackle a range of challenging health problems, such as long-term conditions. One of the innovations that came from Oldham’s campaign is a mask that helps to reduce the risk of retinal disease in diabetic patients. This and a selection of other equally impressive innovations is now nearing the end of the evaluation phase and, if results are good, may soon be adopted.
An attractive route
For CCGs, what makes these programmes unique is that everyone is rooting for success. It is attractive as a fun, novel approach, appeals to a wide base because it is well tested, and yet it is also a rigorous process that addresses a serious topic in a credible way.
Generally speaking, larger organisations hold more sway in the NHS, so this approach is giving smaller innovators an opportunity. CCGs can see some of the incredible ideas that begin life in the hands of individual innovators, and small and medium-sized companies. These companies, in turn, get a chance to appreciate the issues that particular CCGs face.
The format also allows healthcare professionals across the CCG to share ideas. It encourages an innovative spirit across organisations and helps individuals become more creative. Healthcare professionals have a wealth of ideas to shape the future of care. They work in their fields on a day-to-day basis. Such a perspective means that they face challenges and difficulties head on and can see gaps and ways to improve. In fact, some of the best ideas come from healthcare professionals who have identified a clinical issue.
For CCGs, innovation helps to raise standards, and can even reveal ground breaking, world-class ideas. It also creates financial benefits – not just cost savings, but new streams of income if ideas created by CCG staff are successfully commercialised. Through collaboration with manufacturers and developers, the CCG and inventors could even earn royalties from products sold.
Identifying and evaluating new technologies and solutions is a time-consuming task for any CCG. The Dragons’ Den approach can propel fresh ideas into the spotlight and is likely to gain further traction as CCGs seek better ways to treat patients and secure greater value for money.