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.

Gill Hicks, a former colleague at the Design Council, 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 awe inspiring. 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 went against protocol and even directly broke the rules to help.

Our setup (Engine Service Design) before the event

The NHS is a fantastic institution. As an innovator it can be frustrating to see so many missed opportunities (e.g. preventative health initiatives taking the pressure off the system long term, and improving the health and lives of everyone in the process), and so much burden placed on staff to cope with a tsunami of chronic health issues, striving to do the right thing amidst bureaucracy, high management turnover, political cycles influencing investment, and a huge leaning on goodwill and (sometimes free) overtime.

The NHS is an organisation full of ideas and running on philanthropy, but struggling to shift to preventative and long-term chronic care – the latter being crushingly expensive and the former not just affordable, but directly offsetting the long term chronic care costs.

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?


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.

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