The Department of Health has unveiled the first batch of winners of the NHS Innovation Challenge Prizes, with Manchester Royal Infirmary scooping the gold for its scheme to allow patients dialysis in their own homes.

The NHS Innovation Challenge Prizes initiative was set up by the government to recognise and reward ideas from frontline and other healthcare staff that not only address some of the most challenging areas of healthcare, but also help to deliver more cost-efficient and higher quality care as the health service grapples with a period of financial difficulty.

Winners of the first lot of prizes have all demonstrated that their innovative ideas can not only boost patient care but also deliver significant savings for the NHS, in line with the government's aim of providing more for less.

The top prize of £100,000 was awarded to Manchester Royal Infirmary for its dialysis at home scheme, giving patients the convenience of receiving haemodialysis in the comfort of their own homes and saving the local NHS an average of £16,430 per patient every year, or around £1 million per 70 patients. 

So far, the scheme has already trained 180 patients to be independent on haemodialysis at home, and it is hoped that a national rollout of the project will achieve the same cost efficiencies around the country.

Second place and £50,000 went to the Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit for developing a new oesophageal cancer test. The Cytosponge test is basically a sponge enclosed in a pill on a fine medical cord that patients swallow. Once its outer casing has dissolved, the sponge is pulled back up through the oesophagus collecting cells on the way, which can then be assessed in a new molecular test for cancer. 

The Medical Research Cancer Cell Unit Team have been working with Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, where 55-70 patients are evaluated for possible oesophago-gastric cancer every month.

It is estimated that the Cytosponge could save the NHS millions of pounds per year, as the test could be carried out in primary care for just £25 opposed to a whopping £400 per referral for endoscopy. In addition, it could help to detect cancer much earlier meaning that patients can be treated with endoscopy, which is seven times cheaper than an operation. 

NHS Bristol picks up 3rd

The third prize of £35,000 was awarded to NHS Bristol for its development of Scriptswitch, a new computer programme designed to help staff share information on nutritional supplements prescribed to patients between hospitals and GP surgeries, to help reduce waste, maximise efficiency and cut costs.

For example, ScriptSwitch is able to prompt the prescriber to weigh the patient and provide information on how diet could be improved without relying entirely on costly nutritional supplements.

The project has led to savings of around £13,000 per month, which equates to £156,000 per year that can be redirected into improving front-line care.

“All NHS staff have the power to improve services for patients – we want to give them the freedom to use it," said health minister Lord Howe, commenting on the scheme. "In every hospital, GP practice and clinic we need to ensure innovation can flourish by supporting clinicians to develop new ways of thinking and delivering care to benefit patients and the NHS", he stressed.

The next leg of the competition for NHS Challenge Prizes is now open, with the closing date for new applications August 14.