Meaningful, transformational change within NHS Scotland – the country’s most powerful, publicly funded driver of innovation – will undoubtedly be delivered through successful collaboration.

It will happen through marrying the internal experience and know-how of healthcare professionals with external expertise, advice, and support – the “triple helix” partnership of NHS, industry and academia that is often referred to.

However, members of the NHS workforce represent our key agents of this transformation. They know the country’s health service best and how to navigate both its challenges and opportunities. They are its true pioneers – its future – and they can grasp the chance to shape it with both hands.

The need to move NHS Scotland policy towards a model based on more entrepreneurial thinking at this time of ongoing recovery and renewal is well recognised.

Nevertheless, it does not necessitate alternative careers within the health and life science sector – hard choices do not have to be made. Successful NHS and entrepreneurial careers can in fact co-exist and flourish, enhanced by an exchange of knowledge for mutual benefit.

It is about adopting a start-up mindset – recognising, like any fledgling business, that the journey will likely be daunting at times, but by employing great clinical experience, deep understanding of what patients truly need, and a passion for improvement, it will also be extremely rewarding.

NHS Scotland is now ready for the country’s forward-thinking, entrepreneurial change makers to come to the fore; it is prepared for a future defined by an agile, aspirational culture with bureaucracy placed to one side and exciting, barrier-breaking ambition replacing it.

Alongside this mindset shift, many more opportunities are now emerging to establish a positive culture of healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. 

The NHS Scotland Innovation Fellowship scheme aims to develop capacity and capability to support innovation activities, while the recently announced link-up between the Scottish Government’s Techscaler programme and the health service is enabling entrepreneurs to work alongside clinicians to test ideas, products, and services.

There are also a range of Open Innovation Challenges providing an opportunity for companies, working in partnership with NHS Scotland through the Chief Scientist Office (CSO) Regional Innovation Hubs (previously termed Test Beds), to develop solutions that address key health areas and needs.

Initiatives like these are key to the future of Scottish healthcare – to inspire entrepreneurial-minded staff with the power to drive forward new ideas and help shape a more innovative health service. 

We at InnoScot Health have been a formal partner of NHS Scotland for over 20 years, working to identify, protect, develop, and commercialise healthcare innovations that improve patient care. We know that there is no shortage of inspiring would-be innovators in a country which historically prides itself on its unique thinkers. 

Nevertheless, we also know that they feel stretched daily, and work needs to be done to unlock and translate their ideas into results for patient benefit.

These entrepreneurs-in-waiting need two things – the inspiration and encouragement to believe fully in their vision, and the knowledge that they will be nurtured and supported by NHS leaders. The enthusiasm is already there, however.

Last year, InnoScot Health commissioned an independent survey which found that 90 per cent of NHS Scotland staff agree innovation must be at the heart of improving services, with 71 per cent further responding that they have offered ideas on one or more occasion.

That clear groundswell of dynamism must be harnessed, and InnoScot Health is here to support the transition to a more entrepreneurial NHS – whether through our themed innovation calls targeting such diverse areas as pregnancy and perinatal, ophthalmology, and sustainability; our regional innovation competitions; our monthly “lunch and learn” webinars; or simply providing an open door for ideas to be submitted and advice sought. 

InnoScot Health’s webinars have been a particular success, both in bringing to life what we do for those we aim to work with, but also inviting like-minded guest speakers to share their experiences with attendees.

For example, our September webinar was joined by Dr Tamsin Holland Brown, founder of Hear Glue Ear, paediatrician, and co-clinical lead for the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme – a forward-thinking group of collaborative organisations supporting Scottish healthcare innovators.

Holland Brown specialises in children who are deaf, which led her to focus on those with temporary hearing loss due to glue ear.

Based on study results, Holland Brown created the affordable Hear Glue Ear headset to improve hearing and the Hear Glue Ear app to improve childhood developmental skills and self-management of glue ear.

In 2019, that app was voted UK Children’s App of the Year, and the project was named overall winner at Leading1Health’s Forward Healthcare Awards.

Also speaking at our webinar was Dr Debbie Wake, chief executive and chief medical officer at MyWay Digital Health (MWDH), a qualified consultant diabetologist, senior academic, 2017-18 NHS Innovation Accelerator Fellow, and one of nine 2019 UK Women in Innovation award winners. She is a national leader in diabetes artificial intelligence (AI) and an international leader in diabetes education.

With MWDH, Wake has balanced clinical demands and delivered a high-growth globally operating company with a best-in-class diabetes platform.

MWDH transforms healthcare IT data and patient home recorded data into meaningful knowledge, supporting preventive care, accurate treatment decision making, and early intervention.

We drew out further potential clinical entrepreneurs with our recent innovation competition in partnership with NHS Grampian. Rachel Allanach, and Clare Tarr, both speech and language therapists from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, impressed with their fresh ideas.

Such clinicians-turned-NHS entrepreneurs are an inspiration, not to mention a valuable asset. 

This progressive, pioneering blend of know-how and good practice drawn from NHS and non-NHS experiences offers a tremendous learning resource, but importantly, can also engender wider benefits such as economic growth through vital inward investment in the health, social care, and life science sectors.

Such individuals can further be a conduit for industrial and academic partnerships.

Fundamentally, they have overcome difficult challenges and developed unique insight into how processes can be better integrated, carried out more efficiently, or even completely transformed.

Working within Scotland’s healthcare environment can be the source of inspiration for outstanding innovations that, thanks to a receptive, collaborative innovation system, are having a significant impact not only in Scotland, but also globally.

Today’s NHS must be a broad church – one that works collectively and collaboratively to embrace both entrepreneurial ambitions and daily demands, while remaining ever-evolving and adaptable to the exciting opportunities of the future.

Achieving their ambitions

InnoScot Health has helped many talented and driven individuals to achieve their ambitions whilst they have remained active within healthcare. 

Paul Swinton, co-creator of SCRAM™ (Structured CRitical Airway Management), is a great example. The InnoScot Health team has built a relationship with Swinton spanning almost 10 years.

He first came to us while working as an air ambulance paramedic at the Scottish Ambulance Service. Since then, we have worked with him to expand the SCRAM™ portfolio. 

Driven by Swinton’s, left, ambition to improve processes and save lives, and his relationship with fellow experts in different areas such as paediatrics to pre-hospital, the portfolio now extends to nine SCRAM™ variants used by teams in Scotland, Australia, America, South Africa, and more.

Yet, despite the portfolio’s success, he is still proud to work as a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) paramedic involved in critical care and retrieval medicine, alongside being the national education lead for the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

The role of the InnoScot Health team is to help busy healthcare professionals manage clinical and personal commitments alongside their entrepreneurial ambitions. 

Dr David Brennan, now full time chief executive of our 2015 spin-out Aurum Biosciences, is another positive example. 

For a number of years, Brennan balanced his NHS career, working in the field of MRI, image analysis, and associated clinical applications, alongside his work to support Aurum Biosciences develop breakthrough therapeutics and diagnostics in areas of unmet clinical need.