Amid a fast-moving, constantly evolving healthcare landscape, many of what were once considered exciting breakthrough possibilities for the future are increasingly becoming a reality.

We are now starting to see exactly what artificial intelligence (AI) can do, especially in such vital areas as cancer screening – and the results are already looking impressive, helping to identify urgent cases, reducing false positives, easing pressures on radiographers, and putting more patients’ minds at rest.

Preventative measures to improve the health of the population while reducing demand on NHS Scotland are also being prioritised in tandem with positive steps towards lessening inequalities and lowering carbon emissions – exactly what we want to see in a progressive, inclusive, greener society.

Innovation remains central to those efforts, underpinning forward-thinking approaches to ensuring better accessibility for all by aiming to close healthcare gaps, while fostering cutting-edge preventative ideas in new areas. 

Nevertheless, progress does not always necessitate radical solutions – indeed, small adaptations to current approaches can produce powerful results. Incremental improvement is just as important as big strategic steps.

Innovation offers a gateway to doing more with less – in essence, working smarter. Sometimes an effective digital solution already exists and is readily available, but looked at with a fresh mindset, it can be utilised to produce improved patient outcomes or help to identify where more efficient practices could be integrated.

That may, for example, mean leveraging secure cloud technology for better joined up patient records, helping to ensure a smoother healthcare journey through greater data availability for clinicians, or developing programmes that help to ensure fewer gaps in operating theatre usage. 

However, new ideas must be carefully nurtured and supported within the correct parameters if we are to ensure that the best approaches are taken from day one and precious resource is not wasted. 

NHS staff with innovation ambitions are typically balancing their job with other commitments and often do not have the time or full entrepreneurial skillset required to take their ideas from evaluation right through to implementation and commercialisation. 

That is where the right collaborative expertise, experience, and education comes in. 

Formal NHS Scotland partner InnoScot Health has been encouraging and inspiring ambitious health service trailblazers for over 20 years, producing numerous success stories in that time thanks to its innovation pathway and easily accessed expertise in such complex areas as medical device regulation and intellectual property (IP) protection – all vital facets of getting great new ideas into patients’ hands.

Our credo has remained the same since our inauguration in 2002 – that anyone can be an innovator.

InnoScot Health helps to make what might otherwise be a daunting process as straightforward as possible with advice and support provided every step of the way, while its informative website has made booking consultations and submitting ideas easier than ever.

Receiving the right regulatory advice at an early stage in the development process should be a particular priority for innovators. 

The value of dependable regulatory expertise for supporting healthcare innovation while protecting patient safety has arguably never been higher.

Medical device regulation applies to a wide range of innovations to help diagnose, prevent, monitor, treat, or alleviate disease. It is vital that these innovations are safe, effective, and regulated so that any risks are mitigated. 

As we look towards greater use of digital health tools and connected medical devices across healthcare, InnoScot Health has increasingly aimed to establish itself as a trusted point of contact for regulatory expertise.

It has done so by providing regulatory input into important healthcare projects, extending partnerships that have facilitated regulatory learning, including Heriot-Watt University’s Medical Device Manufacturing Centre, and supporting regulatory accreditation for innovative companies, including Glasgow-based MR CoilTech.

Against an often-complex regulatory backdrop, InnoScot Health has continued to develop its already comprehensive service – and improved access to it through such means as one-to-one advice and consultancy, workshops, and online training made available to all staff via the Turas platform for access to health and social care tools and learning resources.

Further tapping into online training opportunities, the organisation has regularly shared regulatory knowledge via its own webinar series with prominent guest speakers including from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and British Standards Institution.

Indeed, InnoScot Health’s series of “lunch & learn” sessions has become a significant facet of its educational offering for the NHS Scotland workforce.

Practising what we preach in delivering accessible advice and expertise, we launched the series last year and it has gone from strength to strength with Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead joining our first session of 2024.

The sessions cover a wide spectrum of topics on a monthly basis – so far ranging from navigating the innovation landscape to securing funding, clinical entrepreneurship, and interconnected innovation.

We believe that during this pivotal time of recovery and transformation, it is vital that NHS innovators are empowered to acquire key learnings and motivation, and that familiarising NHS workers with our team’s particular areas of expertise while signposting them to our intuitive-to-use digital channels is a win-win.

Since its inception, InnoScot Health has successfully negotiated more than 30 commercial license deals with UK and international companies and maintained equity in a number of spin-out companies managed on behalf of NHS health boards. 

Among those spin-outs are CardioPrecision which recently made a global breakthrough in robotic heart surgery, and Aurum Biosciences which continues to develop its ABL-101 technology for advancing the management of acute stroke patients, among other potential healthcare applications.

David Brennan, chief executive of Aurum Biosciences which is developing its technology for acute stroke patients 

Targeted regional innovation competitions are expected to be a further key driver for InnoScot Health this year after initial success.

Its first such competition – held last year in partnership with NHS Grampian – resulted in 32 submissions, nine of which had commercial potential, and two are now in active development.

Likewise, InnoScot Health’s themed innovation calls spotlight many of the most pertinent areas for healthcare progression and offer a dedicated support package to encourage submissions – from a sustainability call targeting NHS Scotland’s net zero goals, to a pregnancy and perinatal call aiming to help close the gender healthcare gap. 

Against the backdrop of NHS Scotland recovery aims, this strong framework will continue to support our health service as it adapts, evolves, and accelerates the development of the leading healthcare innovations of tomorrow.

Crucial protection for innovative ideas

In order to fully harness innovative ideas, an effective intellectual property (IP) approach is key to unlocking and protecting the true power and potential of the knowledge within the NHS. 

Indeed, anything of worth should be protected as soon as possible, making for ownership in the same sense as possessing physical property while creating valuable assets.

Without ownership over the IP of what has been created or invented, anyone, regardless of permission, can use and adapt that idea without adequately compensating the inventor(s).

Protecting IP is therefore crucial to ideas originating from NHS Scotland.

It is one of the key services which InnoScot Health offers to health boards across Scotland, ensuring the NHS is protected in commercial negotiations, with skilled, experienced individuals able to advise and provide support throughout this process.

Over the years, InnoScot Health has protected the IP in its many forms, including patents, trademarks, copyright and design rights, of more than 250 NHS inventions.

InnoScot Health is hosting a free lunchtime webinar on AI in Healthcare: IP and commercialisation on 29 May.

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