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The top five questions the NHS will ask (about your product or service)

6 February 2020 | Mark Otto Smith
Mark Otto Smith of UCLPartners’ Commercial and Innovation team outlines the five key questions you need to answer to successfully commercialise your product or service in the NHS. He has met hundreds of innovators through the AHSNs and Healthcare UK and has distilled key points on commercialisation in the NHS into a 5-minute read below.

1. Why (is it needed)?

Perhaps your innovation was a response to a problem in the NHS or another health system. It could be a high impact system issue such as reducing unplanned admissions, or a specific challenge such as prevention of diabetic foot ulcers.

Sometimes, however, a technology is developed and then the use in healthcare is sought for it. This carries the risk that the NHS doesn’t actually need it. Or it could be a product that’s better offered to consumers or private health providers.

It’s important to remember that the NHS is publicly funded to deliver healthcare for the population and it cannot fund everything. You can see the priorities in the NHS Long Term Plan (2019). NHS providers and commissioners also publish plans and board minutes which can help you target your innovation. There are also a number of specialist healthcare research and intelligence publishers providing organisational, clinical and IT information on trusts in England that may help.

If your innovation doesn’t address a priority for the NHS, you may find it hard to get traction.

2. What (will it do for the NHS)?

The term “NHS” encompasses a complex network of organisations, each with differing needs and priorities. You need to be clear, in terms NHS clinicians and managers can understand, about the ways your technology will solve the problem and its projected clinical and financial impacts.  You may have market research for your product, but you also need a tailored value proposition for the specific part of the NHS you are addressing. Member organisations for healthtech innovators such as the Association of British Healthtech Industries (ABHI), Health Enterprise East and Medilink can help with developing this.

Your innovation needs a robust value proposition to the NHS before the start of commercialisation.

3. Who (will buy it)?

Healthcare is complicated. Clinicians are increasingly comfortable with technology, but can reject even the most “no-brainer” propositions due to local priorities and approaches. In general, the more parts of the NHS involved in the decision to purchase and implement, the harder it will be to get adoption and scale up.

If you don’t know who is going to buy it and where the budget is going to come from, you won’t know if you have a product that can sell.

4. Where (has it been successfully used before)?

To reduce risk, the NHS may require case studies describing how your innovation has helped similar NHS services to save money and improve patient outcomes. You may have great evidence from another country or in a controlled trial environment, but your target customers may require one or more real-world validations. This should demonstrate that NHS clinicians and patients have used the product in typical environments and achieved the claimed results. NHS Finance Directors are very familiar with overblown claims that are not attained in practice. Frequently, promised savings don’t materialise because the reductions the product achieves in staff time are diverted to other things. This may be a benefit, but it should be made clear that it won’t actually release cash. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If an NHS body has paid for your product at full price on the strength of your existing evidence, you can probably continue selling on this basis. But it might be a slow process if it isn’t enough to convince all your target customers.

If you are selling a system-wide benefit to commissioners, they will want to see data at population level to be assured of your cost and outcome benefits. The average Clinical Commissioning Group needs to deliver NHS services to over 200,000 people, with likely more than fifty GP practices.  A trial in one GP practice working with 75 patients may not be sufficiently compelling for innovations that impact population health over multiple years.

This is one of the “chasms” that innovators must overcome to be successful in scaling up in healthcare. Without the evidence required by the NHS, you may join the large number of innovations that could well be useful but show insufficient proof of the clinical, financial and patient experience benefits they claim.

Think early about the evidence required, and how to arrange and pay for it.

5. How (will you get it to scale up in the NHS)?

Understanding the value proposition and customer at the earliest possible stage and refining as you go will help you stay focussed and get to scale before your competitors. If your company has already sought private funding, you will likely have had to learn this quickly.

UCLPartners can facilitate NHS engagement to support innovations with the required clinical evidence and real world validation. Our regular Market Insight Briefings in London can help early stage companies to develop the value proposition addressing the above questions. Many hundreds of companies have benefited from these briefings, so if you have a health technology that can benefit the NHS, now or in the future, you may find it helpful. If you’d like to apply to attend, please complete the application form here:

Who should healthtech SMEs speak to in the NHS?

Why should healthtech companies engage with UCLPartners?

Innovators & business