Celebrating two decades of Scottish innovative excellence
A pioneering organisation that accelerates innovations and inventions originating from within the NHS is celebrating 20 years of introducing new technology and ideas to Scotland’s health service.
InnoScot Health, formerly Scottish Health Innovations Ltd, now has two decades’ worth of experience, bringing cost-efficient, lifesaving ideas into NHS Scotland thanks to funding support from the Scottish Government.
“Effectively we are the technology transfer arm of the National Health Service,” says InnoScot Health Executive Chair Graham Watson. “If people working in the health service come up with an innovative idea which they think might be capable of being commercialised, then we can help them and ultimately get the best ideas in front of patients.
“Benefiting patient care is the foremost objective we have, but our second objective is ideally to generate income for the NHS health boards and for the inventors themselves, and we’ve spent the last two decades performing both of those functions for Scotland.”
Set up in 2002, some of InnoScot Health’s success stories include special ‘prism’ glasses which help rehabilitate patients recovering from limb amputations, pre-packed ‘SCRAM’ bags which help airway management in ambulances, and a ‘SARUS Hood’ which allows CPR to be performed without risking the transmission of Covid-19 and other diseases.
“Another successful product we have co-developed,” said Watson, “came from a very simple idea – in fact most of these innovations come from very simple ideas that make enormous differences to patient outcomes – and that was how to weigh patients suffering from stroke.
“When a person comes into Accident and Emergency, particularly when they have had a stroke, one of the first, most important things to do is weigh them, to determine the dosage of the administered drugs.
“Getting that right is very important, but obviously if someone is coming in with a stroke, their mobility is hampered, and traditionally it is very difficult to weigh them in a safe, carefully managed and accurate way.
“The initial idea was raw and simple – when patients come in, they have to be transferred from the ambulance to a hospital bed, which is done using a sliding board to move the patient. Well, why not put some form of weighing scale within the sliding board? That way, we are not changing the motion of the patient and we’re getting accurate readings.
“For that one, we partnered with a company down in England which specialises in weighing equipment, and we led the successful commercialisation of the basic idea.”
More than 2,000 ideas have been submitted to InnoScot Health over its storied existence, leading to seven new companies being formed, over 250 intellectual property protections, and 25 commercial licence deals. As well as its commercial expertise and ability to launch products onto the market, InnoScot Health is also an ISO 13485 accredited organisation, meaning it has the capacity to provide medical devices with a UKCA mark.
The income InnoScot Health realises is often split between the inventor, the department which employs the inventor, and the local health board, generating a significant return on investment for the NHS.
In a typical year, InnoScot Health receives well over 100 pitches from NHS employees, which requires a great deal of expertise and management to whittle down to marketable, viable technologies for the health service.
“NHS innovators come to us in a variety of ways – they might come directly, and meet us face-to-face, or they might come to us through the website. They might get in touch because they have been encouraged by their own health board’s research and development team, or through searching us out independently.
“In a typical, pre-Covid year, we get 100 to 150 ideas from people within the NHS. Clearly, not all of them are going to be viable, and not all of them, even if they are viable, are likely to generate a commercial return.
“Sadly, we cannot afford the time, because we have a limited number of people, to work with every idea we receive, so we screen them pretty rigidly and rigorously, because we know that if we take something forward after that initial contact, then it is going to require a lot of support work on our part, and some investment before it becomes a commercially viable idea.”
The screening process might include investigating whether there is demand in a specific area or conducting analysis with the local health board to see if there is a positive financial impact if the idea is implemented.
Watson adds: “If we get 150 ideas in a year, we will work with maybe 10 per cent of that number actively, and then we would be delighted if 20 per cent of that 10 per cent were actually commercially successful, so there’s a significant amount of funneling down each year.”
Once InnoScot Health takes on a new innovation, the team will work on protecting intellectual property, product development and prototyping, as well as identifying private sector partners and marketing strategies.
“That can typically take many months,” says Watson, “but there is no doubt that during Covid the timeline between an idea being disclosed to us and thereafter successfully exiting our pathway has actually reduced, which is a good development, because one of the things we have seen is that health boards have become a lot more alert to the benefits of the innovations we are working on, particularly in the digital space.”
Watson adds that he believes InnoScot Health’s work can significantly improve health and social care in an ambitious and entrepreneurial Scotland.
“We receive a modest amount of money from the public purse,” he says, “and yet over 20 years we have been able to generate products and ideas that are helping patients across Scotland, and which are generating money for health boards.
“Critically, ideas can come from anywhere, so we think it is really important for senior leaders in the health sector to understand our strong track record of support and achievement, that we encourage staff across the whole spectrum of the NHS employment base to come forward with ideas, and that we will be in a position to take the most promising ideas forward.
“When you look at what is important to government, it is joining up health improvement and economic development in a way that is seamless and effective across the whole population of Scotland.
“One of the key things we are trying to do with some of the best ideas is to scale them up – it is not just about having a new idea, it is about how you scale it, how does it get critical mass – only then can it have an impact beyond just the portfolio of health, it starts to impact on finance and the wider economy and that is really what we’ve been able to demonstrate increasingly over the last 20 years.”
This article was sponsored by InnoScot. This article appears in Holyrood’s Annual Review 2021/22.