Working together to create digital harmony

Further, Faster is a new online resource which shares practical ways to overcome the difficulties faced by NHS organisations and small technology companies in working together.

In the November 2015 Budget, the NHS was allocated £1 billion to spend on technology over the next five years to help it become a digitally enabled health service.

With national NHS procurement targets requiring 25 per cent of contracts to go to SMEs, small to medium companies should see a fair slice of this. But the reality is that the NHS and SMEs still find it difficult to do business together. The current picture is difficult to measure as fewer than one in ten NHS Trusts record their spend with SMEs, according to a FOI request.

The frustration is felt by all sides: SMEs put off by the slow pace of procurement and the slog involved in building business with the NHS; those at the centre working to create a better environment for SMEs to do business with the NHS; and NHS organisations who are working with SMEs, as well as those struggling to persuade colleagues to take risks with new approaches.

Sharing experiences
Born out of this frustration, a new online resource has been created to break down the barriers to collaboration between SMEs and the NHS, and create future opportunities. ‘Further, Faster: Accelerating the pace of digitising the NHS’, was created by ZPB Associates and an expert panel of health entrepreneurs, CEOs and senior NHS procurement chiefs and is supported by Guys & St Thomas Charity.

The resource shares the stories of NHS Trusts and SMEs that have successfully worked together, detailing what worked and what did not, from both sides of the relationship. It includes tips by SMEs who want to work with the NHS, as well as advice and lessons for NHS boards and leadership teams who are looking to adopt health tech solutions. It also has case studies, insights and opinion pieces from SMEs who have learned the hard way and put forward their recommendations on topics such as procurement, relationship-building and collaboration.

Born out of fustration
Alex Kafetz, chief operating officer at ZPB explained that the idea to create the resource happened after attending a digital health conference where he asked a question about involving SMEs and got ‘a very vague answer.’ He also described how an SME representative ‘berated the panel, saying that he felt it was all too difficult, the conference hadn’t helped at all, and he had no faith that the NHS would ever work with companies like his own, and he was giving up.’

In June 2015, ZPB Associates partnered with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity to bring together a group of experts from across the healthcare system to discuss practical ways to overcome such difficulties faced by NHS organisations and digital health SMEs in working together.

The expert panel, over a series of meetings, came up with practical insights and recommendations for both sides on what to do, what to understand, what to avoid and why it matters.

The information was collated to create the digital resource for both SMEs and individuals in the NHS who want to scale the use of technology.

Formally launched in March 2016, it offers insights, case studies, opinion and success stories so that people can share and learn, and ultimately build successful commercial partnerships. It is a continually evolving resource, and SMEs and healthcare professionals are urged to get in touch to share their own experiences.

The crucial role of SMEs
ZPB’s chief executive Zoe Bedford, said: "Accelerating the adoption and spread of technology-based innovation is as much a necessity for the financial health of the system as it is for improving health. We are convinced of the crucial role small and medium size tech businesses can play in helping to create an NHS fit for the demands of 21st century patients, citizens and employees. It is frustrating that some of the best British companies are looking to relocate abroad as they’ve found the NHS environment too challenging.”

“This online resource is packed with hard won practical advice and examples from both SMEs and the NHS on how they have navigated the system and broke down barriers to embed new innovation which makes a difference”

Rob Berry, head of innovation and research at Kent Surrey and Sussex Academic Health Science Network, said:

“Good deals between the NHS and SMEs will always depend on both parties working together to recognise and manage some inevitable tensions.

“With digital technologies there are major opportunities to re-invent, adjust or tailor to suit the local context, without diminishing the potential benefits. Therefore there are major opportunities to collaborate.”

Oliver Smith, director of strategy and innovation at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, said: “It is obvious that digital technology has a huge potential to improve the NHS but just because it is obvious doesn’t mean it will happen easily. By supporting this honest inquiry, we hope we can accelerate change – giving the NHS and SMEs practical tips on how to bring new ideas to life.

In Lambeth and Southwark, where the Charity works, we have only just begun to scratch the surface and see the difference digital health can make to people’s lives and hope these resources will lead to many more opportunities in the future.”

Building the resource
The aim is for Further, Faster to be a continually evolving resource, explains Alex Kafetz: “This is the start of the process, not the end. We want Further, Faster to become the best and most extensive online library of advice and tips for the NHS and SMEs.

“I think it’s incredibly important that the NHS utilises the skills and products from health tech SMEs if we are going to meet the technology commitments of the Five Year Forward View and achieve the vision the National Information Board has set out.

“We want all of you to use and improve this resource to make this happen.”

Further Information
To get involved, email

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