Engine at NHS / NESTA Innovation Live!

Last week Engine took part at Innovation Live!, a collaboration between NESTA and the NHS, which focused on how to develop a culture of innovation within all areas of healthcare.

It was an opportunity for NHS management to exchange best practice between themselves and health related charities, but also to meet creative organisations , invited by NESTA, who could hopefully shed some light on how to innovate within the health industry.

The NHS is a fantastic institution in concept, but the reality falls woefully short of the potential and performance possible.

Gill Hicks delivered an uplifting speech on her experience of the NHS after she was critically injured in the June 7th Tube bombings. Her story of how she was supported in learning to walk again, and to gain the courage and confidence to keep going was very inspiring but touched a raw nerve in the room, which was the subject of the conference.

Many examples she gave of the things that best helped her recover both mentally and physically were moments where staff went not just above and beyond to help Gill’s recovery, but they went against protocol and even directly broke the rules to help.

The image I had of the NHS as a bureaucratic monster, reinforced by stories I had heard from people who worked within it, and fuelled by the British media, seemed disappointingly accurate. The NHS is falling behind as the health issues and challenges change towards longer term, chronic illnesses. The NHS is an organisation full of ideas and running on philanthropy, but held back by the archaic nature of the institution and crippling bureaucracy.

As a service designer, it seems almost too complex and enormous a problem to take in; where do you start in the fifth-largest organisation in the world, which belongs to the public sector and deals with the most critical moments and experiences of all our lives?

mmm…engaging biscuits.


Since a brief experience with RED’s Activmobs service and preliminary roll-out which stalled soon after I’ve been aching to get stuck in. I don’t need to blow the user-centred innovation trumpet again on this blog, but if you want to find out more, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson explains why he believes the NHS could learn some lessons in customer care here.