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Innovation: Why the NHS needs the private sector

The challenges facing the NHS and public bodies are no secret. In recent years, our newspapers have been saturated with statistics showing the financial strain on institutions and pressures to reduce costs whilst improving productivity. Our increasingly aging population is creating a squeeze on demand, causing NHS budgets to creak significantly. 

Staff that work with patients suffering from preventable illnesses , such as pressure ulcers, have been hit particularly hard with threats of budget cuts if they dont reduce incidence rates by half. Pressure ulcers cost the NHS between 1.4bn and 2.1bn a year half the amount spent on cancer treatment – representing a significant chunk of public money.

However, it is true that in times of adversity, positive change can start to happen, driven by necessity.

The power of innovation

Habitually, public bodies, especially those that have existed for a century, are clinging on to traditional ways of working. Unfortunately, the safe approach stifles innovation. Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, an independent think tank recently spoke of the benefits of new approaches and doing things differently. She rightly said Welsh councils are salami slicing services rather than grasping opportunities for bold innovation. It is true that people want 21st century services, not the same old ways from the 1950s and 60s.

Demonstrate value

Building valuable relationships with private companies should be a necessity in the public sector. Commercial expertise aligned with industry knowledge creates a good premise, but if a company can demonstrate significant value in their product range, it will generate success. It is clear that cross-sector partnerships, such as those between the NHS and a supplier, can improve services. For example, Direct Healthcare Services has been working with NHS Trusts in England to develop innovative products that are ultimately saving hundreds of thousands of pounds and releasing nurses time back to patients.

Claiming that the private sector can significantly improve a public sector service is a bold statement, but clear evidence exists that this is the case. The private sector adds value by saving organisations considerable time and imparting essential commercial guidance.

Building long-term, sustainable goals

For organisations to work together, there needs to be synchronisation in long-term goals. Many partnerships have failed due to different visions and priorities, which should be tackled at the outset. For a business like ours, NHS Trusts need to know they can draw on our commercial expertise to recommend viable solutions in improving the care of an ageing population, whilst guaranteeing savings. Its important to note that delivery must be measured by KPIs; only then can positive changes be evidenced and models developed for wider adaption.

Being ahead

As private sector businesses, we must show the advantages of breaking down traditional silos that are holding public sector bodies back. Its crucial to demonstrate that in a partnership there are equal roles to play. Whilst a business will take the commercial lead, the public sector body can create positive outcomes, thus being recognised as a leader of best practice in improving services. 

For instance, one of our leading products was successfully commissioned for trial in a hospital after the Head of Procurement proposed robust financial and clinical benefits to his Hospital Board. By engaging with the operation and helping to implement the trial, the Trust will save hundreds of thousands of pounds and be recognised as a leader by demonstrating innovative best practice to other organisations.

Take advantage of the opportunity

The NHS needs the private sector to keep abreast of innovation, pool resources and experience, break existing moulds and develop new ways of doing things. Ultimately, the NHS and public sector organisations can’t afford not to learn from the private sector in order to improve services. Standing still just isnt an option.

Graham Ewart is Managing Director of Direct Healthcare Services.

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