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05 Jul 2023
by Liz Ashall-Payne

The NHS is innovation – Celebrating 75 years (Guest blog by Orcha)

Guest blog by Liz Ashall-Payne, CEO and Co-Founder at ORCHA

Innovation has always been at the heart of the NHS

The National Health Service, 75 years old this July, is, without doubt, one of the greatest achievements of our country.

As we fight for its continued existence, against these unprecedent pressures, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the NHS isn’t just a great innovation in itself – it also fosters innovation.

In 1949, Sir Harold Ridley at Moorfields eye hospital created the Intraocular Lens, revolutionising cataract surgery. A decade later a Scottish surgeon realised that industrial sonar could be adapted and used to take images of unborn babies, leading to the invention of ultrasound. There followed, across the decades, test tube babies, hip replacements, gene therapy and bionic hands, to name a few. A whole catalogue of world firsts.

Digital innovation can support modern day challenges in the NHS

So how are we going to foster this spirit of innovation to tackle the enormity of the healthcare challenge which faces our entire society?

The work is already well underway.

Digital transformation of the NHS is now government policy, through the NHS Long Term Plan. The NHS clinical entrepreneur programme has supported over 500 bright minds to bring their innovations to reality over the past three years. Healthcare professionals around the UK are prescribing digital tools to help patients self-manage conditions from their own homes.

Evidence that digital transformation is already helping the NHS

A body of evidence is mounting which demonstrates the effectiveness of digital health technologies. NICE is now trialling and endorsing increasing numbers of products, as are many professional bodies.

The NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service is now offering digital therapeutics to patients, to augment the face-to-face therapy service it offers.

Sleepio is recommended as a cost saving option for treating insomnia and insomnia symptoms in primary care for people who would otherwise be offered sleep hygiene or sleeping pills. 80% of patients registered to use this app by their clinicians become highly engaged users.

At a time when many conventional services were cancelled, due to the pandemic, the myMHealth app delivered 55,000 pulmonary rehab classes and 250,000 other educational sessions to patients. 80% of patients registered by their clinical teams onto this platform become highly engaged and active users.

Conscious of the need to standardise app quality, the NHS now requires digital health apps to meet its Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC). App developers are getting on top of this and at ORCHA we have helped many topflight apps – Headspace, Wysa, Gro Health and Fitbit, to name a few – meet this new benchmark.

Innovation is not easy - but it can be done

But innovation isn’t easy. It took Edison thousands of attempts to get a working light bulb, built on the efforts of those before him. None of the great achievements made by NHS doctors over the years happened without trial and error.

I know this from my own experience. When my Co-Founder Tim Andrews and I set out to develop a mechanised health app review engine, medical device regulators told us it couldn’t be done. Traditional approaches to medical device assessment involved subject specialists and a 12 to 18-month study.

But we did it. Our team deconstructed 350 standards (including elements of the NICE Evidence Standards Framework) into bite-size chunks, so that comprehensive reviews of health apps could be carried out using technology, in just four hours and costing ten times less than medical device accreditation.

Since founding ORCHA in 2015, we have carried out over 20,000 health app reviews and 70 per cent of NHS regions are now prescribing digital health apps safely through ORCHA app libraries.

I’m convinced that in the years ahead, when we look back at the 2020s, we’ll say that this was the decade when digital health took hold – and thank goodness it did, because look at how it has transformed healthcare.

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Liz Ashall-Payne

Liz Ashall-Payne

CEO and Co-Founder , ORCHA Healthcare Ltd