By Laura Boyd, National Programme Lead, NHS Innovation Accelerator

Published: 27 June 2018

Laura Boyd, national programme lead for the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), shares insights from a recent evaluation which evidences the crucial role of patient involvement in uptake and adoption - and highlights how you can have your say in the innovation themes for the next Call of the NIA.  

What is the NHS Innovation Accelerator?

When I explain what the NHS Innovation Accelerator - or NIA - is, and what it aims to do, so many people exclaim what a fantastic job I have. And I have to agree, I do! In essence, I get to support great people leading life-transforming innovations with patients and users at heart of them. 

Each year the NIA selects and supports evidence-based innovations, already in use either in England or elsewhere, to spread across the NHS for faster patient and population benefit. The NIA is an NHS England initiative delivered in partnership with the national innovation network - the 15 Academic Health Science Networks across England - and hosted at UCLPartners. 

The NIA was set up in response to the recognition that it can take an inordinately long time (17 years is often quoted) to spread an innovation - and by this, I mean innovations that have an evidence base rather than simply a nice, untested idea.

A rigorous selection process

Each year the NIA runs an international Call for innovations to join. All innovations must demonstrate that there is a clear patient benefit, and that patients and users are continually involved in their rollout.

All innovations selected to join the NIA go through a six-stage assessment process - including screening, assessment, informal NICE review, interview, independent selection panel and due diligence - before being invited to join. More than 100 assessors are involved in the annual selection process, including patients, charities, clinicians, commercial and technical experts. 

The bar is high for the innovation: patient-need and acceptability is crucial, and it must be able to evidence effectiveness.

Patient involvement is a necessity for success - the evidence

The NIA has a dual focus both on spreading the innovation itself but also in developing a great individual or ‘Fellow’ willing to share their experiences and insights. The idea being that by shining a light on some of the challenges, we can work with policy makers to unlock those barriers - and make it easier for innovation to spread, so that patients benefit more quickly.  

With a background in the charity sector (I started my career at Cancer Research UK), I had previously taken it for granted that the patient should always be at the heart of work where health is concerned. Moving to other roles within the NHS and public sector, I was surprised to find that others don’t always hold this view point, and that patient engagement is often lacking - at times little more than lip service.

So, I am delighted that an independent evaluation of the NIA - undertaken by the Institute of Employment Studies with York Health Economics Consortium and funded by The Health Foundation - shows definitively that the overwhelming enabler to successful spread, no matter the type of innovation, is patient involvement.

Patients must be at the heart of innovation

Whilst this should come as no surprise to us - after all, any corporate developing a new product would absolutely have the consumer at the forefront of their development and market testing - what really surprised me was the breadth and extent of ways in which patient involvement helped to accelerate the spread of the innovations on the NIA.

The four identified ways included:

  1. In the development of the innovation itself
  2. In keeping the innovator motivated and inspired when times were tough and the journey to achieving spread was challenging. I remember Peter Young, the Fellow with the PneuX pneumonia prevention system returning from presenting at a citizen senate and being overwhelmingly touched and inspired by the positive response he received
  3. In laying the groundwork for the innovations to be well-received. The fact that so many of us are now confident in banking, shopping, etc., using our mobile devices, means patients are receptive to health apps and health information delivered through their phones 
  4. In demanding the innovation be made available through the NHS. For example, the AliveCor Kardia - a mobile ECG that instantly analyses and interprets heart recordings, identifying atrial fibrillation (a leading cause of stroke) - has chosen to make the innovation directly available to patients to demonstrate the popularity of the device.

Selecting innovations that address the challenges facing the NHS now

Patients must be at the heart of innovation. In September we will launch the fourth Call for applications to the NIA. We therefore would like to invite you as AMRC members and patient representatives, to help us choose the themes for the next Call by completing this short survey:

For more information about the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), visit