The government has set aside a cash pile of £220 million to help encourage innovation in the National Health Service, by providing the means to convert new healthcare ideas and solutions into reality.

The new fund was announced by health minister Lord Darzi yesterday during the launch of ‘Innovation for a Healthier Future’, a collection of measures designed to help foster a more innovative culture throughout the health service, as laid out in his vision for the future of the NHS, High Quality Care for All.

According to the Department of Health, innovation in the NHS is danger of being stifled because of a lack of funds to drive it, and therefore the new money is primarily designed to help accelerate the time it takes to get new ideas “from design bench to NHS bedside”.

Each of the 10 Strategic Health Authorities in England will be dished out £2 million this year, followed by £5 million in each of the four years thereafter to help “support frontline staff in developing innovative ideas” that will ultimately improve patient care, as well as prevent stagnation of progress in the NHS and thereby help it maintain its status of a world-class health service.

“We know that around 40% of the world's inventions over the past 50 years originated in the UK and that the NHS is rightly recognised as a world leader in the development of innovative treatments and technologies,” commented Lord Darzi, “but we can be better at putting those good ideas into action and these funds will help do exactly that,” he stressed.

Alongside the fund the government has also set up a support structure for SHAs, and has brought in NESTA (the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) and the Young Foundation to advise on how SHAs can promote a “true innovation culture”.

“The pressures on delivering high quality healthcare have never been greater. Yesterday's solutions to tomorrow's problems won't work,” explained NESTA Chief Executive Jonathan Kestenbaum. He believes the SHA Innovation Fund will “ensure that fresh ideas and radical thinking by frontline staff can be delivered across the NHS”, and says that, having developed expertise in how to encourage innovative public services, NESTA is “pleased to be able to put this into action at the very heart of public service delivery”.

Innovation prizes
In a further tactic designed to encourage service progress, Lord Darzi also announced more details on Innovation Challenge Prizes, which are designed to help find new ways of addressing today’s health challenges and recognise and promote emerging best practice.

According to the DH, the challenges – which will be decided later this year with the help from the public - will be designed to “engage a wide range of NHS staff”.