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NHS Innovation: Roadblock to Success?

It is no secret that the National Health Service (NHS) faces a funding crisis: as emergency services creak and politicians shudder at the thought of closing more hospitals already short on money, the costs of balancing the account sheets run into billions of pounds [1]. Despite this funding crisis, the NHS has seldom associated itself with profit-making ventures. This is changing over time, with new rules on exploiting inventions.

From Intellectual to Financial Capital

Capitalising on intellectual capital within the organisation is not a new concept. The government allows hospital trusts and other health service bodies to hold shares in companies set up to commercialise new ideas. State-owned companies also exist to protect and transfer the intellectual property rights of NHS discoveries to manufacturers and spin-offs. As with universities, the idea is that both the inventor and the NHS should earn money while improving patient care, and the economy should benefit as well.

The American experience suggests there is plenty of scope for improvement in NHS innovation pathways. One American hospital alone (Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston) achieved an annual licensing income of almost $300m US dollars in the fiscal year 2018/19 from its discoveries [1]. In the same period, they filed almost 1600 patents. In comparison, the NHS England 2018/19 Annual Report stated that 442 products were undergoing testing or development [2].

Better Processes will Maximise Delivery

The NHS is keen to exploit innovation in theory, but this is often more difficult in practice. A major hurdle is the lack of a clear process for pitching an idea; those who do must tout their wares to each trust and sometimes to each hospital department. For example, it is commonly accepted that electronic databases increase efficiency and improve safety, but there are units across the country who continue to write each patient’s notes out five times, on various whiteboards and notepads, as they filter through the hospital. In addition, amidst the backdrop of Cambridge researchers’ breakthroughs in diagnostic testing for COVID19, we are still falling short of the desired number of tests we can provide to staff and patients.

Our Project

Our project aims to map out the current pathways for commercialising innovation within the NHS, and to liaise with relevant stakeholders in order to streamline these processes. The existing pathways for translating innovation in the NHS into tangible outputs have become increasingly challenging creating frustration for innovators, for patients who could potentially benefit from novel treatments, and for clinicians who are frustrated by the multiple barriers to both approval and adoption. We aim to obtain the views of these various stakeholders and create a new and more agile approach to the prioritisation and adoption of NHS innovation. Now more than ever, with a tidal wave of exciting new technologies approaching, the system needs a way to do this.


[1] Massachusetts General Hospital. Research Institute by the Numbers. Accessed 01 May 2020 at

[2] NHS England. Annual Report and Accounts 2018/19. Accessed 01 May 2020 at


  1. Ananya Manchanda (Editor), MPhil candidate in Chemistry 

  2. Andrew Wright, 3rd year, BA (Hons) Natural Sciences Tripos

  3. Anmol Arora, 4th year, Medicine (MB BChir)

  4. Khuah Seah, PhD candidate in Surgery

  5. Mark Cheng, 1st year, Medicine (MB BChir)

  6. Zahra Khwaja, 3rd year, BA (Hons) Natural Sciences Tripos 


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