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Ireland-UK, EIT Health Ireland-UK

Innovation on the frontline

21st June 2022

Last week our Ireland-UK hub team was lucky enough to attend the HSE Spark Summit in Dublin, hosted by the Spark Innovation Programme. The event is a unique health innovation conference for staff, industry and academics, focusing on emerging frontline innovations that will transform healthcare and improve patient outcomes.

Rethinking workforce skills

Jared Gormly, Head of HSE Spark Frontline Innovation Programme, kicked off the event and pointed out that,

Change at the frontline can create change throughout the whole system.”

Backed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Spark Innovation Programme was established in 2017 as a bottom-up led initiative that encourages healthcare providers to develop and implement their own ideas to optimise healthcare delivery in Ireland. This approach aligns with one of our key focus areas at EIT Health to create sustainable healthcare systems in Europe. Trevor Vaugh, Member of Public Sector Innovation Advisory Board, explained why it is important to invest in this area,

Frontline innovators are lead users. This puts them in the perfect position to spot opportunities ahead of anyone else.”

Our team heard from speakers who are working to implement a culture of innovation throughout the entire system. Prof. Seamus Morris, Orthopaedic Surgeon and Director of Innovation at the Mater Hospital, noted that typically 2% of a population can be innovators. With Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) employing approximately 100,000 people in Ireland, there are potentially 2,000 innovative thinkers currently working at the HSE. He argues for Innovation Modules to be introduced to healthcare professionals much earlier on in their studies.

At EIT Health we support Universities across Europe to host Innovation Days, health innovation summer schools, fellowships, masters programmes etc. Learn more.

Creating time to innovate

It was widely accepted during the event that frontline healthcare workers are faced with overburdened workloads making it a challenge for time for them to find the headspace to think of new ways to solve everyday problems.

Siobhan Manning, Service Innovation and Design Lead at Dublin’s Mater Hospital, deep dived into this issue quoting thought-leader Peter Drucker,

The hospital is altogether the most complex human organisation ever devised.”

In clinical settings, many systems are simply no longer fit for purpose and cause inefficiencies. Siobhan advocates for using data to find solutions to optimize hospital processes and systems. In achieving this, clinician time can be freed up to think more laterally about ideas for improvement in patient care.

At EIT Health we have a dedicated Think Tank to this topic. You can find reports and resources such as ‘The Use of Existing Big Data to Improve Healthcare’ to learn more.

Innovation in action

Throughout the day we also heard of inspiring stories of success. Norma Caples, Advanced Nurse Practitioner Heart Failure at University Hospital Waterford, was helped by the Spark Programme to bring her idea to life.

The cost of heart failure in Ireland is €660M per year, primarily driven by the cost of hospitalisation. As fluid retention, manifested by weight gain, is indicative of heart failure, Norma identified that daily weight monitoring by patients could help them spot warning signs and be empowered to know when to take action.

Norma developed the Fluid Heart Tracker App, an idea that won the Spark Ignite Awards in 2020, has been adopted by the Irish Heart Foundation, and is now included in the national heart failure model of care.

A simple idea such as this, to encourage a small change in patient behaviour can have a lasting, positive effect on both the patient, and on our hospitals. To learn more about building resilient and sustainable healthcare systems, check out our latest Think Tank report.

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