The Dragons' Den enables innovation in healthcare and NHS market

19 June 2017 4 min. read

The Dragons’ Den, which resembles the popular television series, has been used in many sectors for years as a means of spurring creative thinking and judging innovations. The benefits it bestows are increasingly being recognised in healthcare, writes Raj Purewal, business development and partnerships director at healthcare consultancy TRUSTECH, as the approach attracts growing interest and attention across the UK.

Innovation is recognised in the NHS as a means to turn the economic tide; as a way to work smarter to deliver better care more efficiently and cost effectively. For the NHS, staying on top of the latest healthcare innovations to hit the market is a huge task, operationally and financially. Innovations emerge on a daily basis, so keeping ahead of the newest developments is challenging to say the least. Methods that simplify this process are highly sought, hence the heightened interest in Dragons’ Den programmes and what they have to offer.

In healthcare, Dragons’ Den programmes are being used as an increasingly effective means to streamline the process of identifying and evaluating innovations. In fact, it very much reflects the format of the television programme; entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas in front of key NHS decision makers, also known as the ‘Dragons’. What sets it apart from the television series is that the NHS organisations running the programme do not demand a percentage of the innovator’s profits in exchange for financial support. Instead organisations generally offer an evaluation of the innovation in an NHS environment, and its results follow a streamlined path through to procurement and potential commissioning. 

The Dragons Den enables innovation in healthcare and NHS marketWorking with the NHS

For entrepreneurs and SMEs with a new idea, this provides an invaluable route into the NHS, which is risk averse, and a historically difficult market to break into. Lacking the resources available to larger commercial companies, SMEs and people going it alone often face overwhelming challenges which may result in them abandoning their ideas. Dragons’ Den programmes breaks down these barriers and provides a foot in the door for this group of innovators, helping to capture ideas that may otherwise have slipped through the net. To a certain extent Dragons’ Den enables innovators to obtain NHS input at a much earlier stage so that the solutions can be aligned with actual NHS needs as well as fast tracking the idea along the development pathway. 

In the past it has been incredibly difficult for the NHS to engage with small and medium sized companies, and yet the value they can bring to healthcare is undisputed.

Two of the most well-recognised examples of NHS organisations that have successfully used a Dragons’ Den style initiative are NHS Salford Clinical Commissioning Group, and NHS Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group, who are pioneers in adopting this technique to find new potential ways of delivering excellent care for NHS patients. Both reported outstanding results in terms of the number of fresh ideas it brought to the table and now, having short-listed the innovations that won the Dragons over in their respective Dens; funded evaluations in live healthcare settings are currently underway. The technologies and services selected for evaluation have the potential to significantly benefit healthcare delivery, not just within these areas, but the wider NHS. 

Healthcare consultancy market

Dragons’ Den style initiatives in healthcare are opening up a world of opportunities, not only for the individuals and SMEs with the ideas, and healthcare organisations, but also for the healthcare consultancy market. TRUSTECH discovered the merits of this initiative some time ago, and our innovation specialist status has seen us take the lead in the healthcare consultancy market. The healthcare consulting market is evolving, and with the importance of improving healthcare through innovation, it is giving rise to a spectrum of new support. Smaller independent consultancies are pushing the boundaries and becoming ever more creative in the services they provide; the emergence of programmes like Dragons’ Den are helping this section of the market thrive.