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The rise of the clinical entrepreneur




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The NHS is the world’s largest, longest established, unified healthcare system and has been at the forefront of many pioneering medical innovations in its 70‐year history. These have included the intraocular lens, total hip replacement, the rod‐lens telescope, CT and MRI scanners, and the laryngeal mask. However, commercialisation of this technology has often been better achieved abroad.

Increasingly the latest greatest advances transforming our lives are originating directly from industry. Companies such as Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and Google are at the vanguard of this disruptive change. More and more, their innovative products and services are available directly to patients resulting in the disintermediation of doctors. This is heralding a new era – a personalised, empowered, democratised healthcare revolution.

Traditionally the NHS has supported clinicians who want to develop their career in academic, leadership or educational arenas but has not been as supportive of entrepreneurial clinicians.

If we are to deliver on the promise of the Five Year Forward View 1 and the patients of the NHS are to receive the first‐hand benefit of innovation, we need to equip our clinicians with the entrepreneurial skills, knowledge and experience that will enable them to understand and engage with this new world. We need to develop our clinicians, so that they have both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial abilities.

This has already been recognised by trainee doctors. Increasingly juniors want to both deliver and improve healthcare. In the UK, >56% of trainees completing their Foundation Year 2 (FY2) do not continue straight into training posts and ~5% of trainees leave medicine each year to pursue other opportunities, many take up entrepreneurial positions. We are losing a generation of innovative, entrepreneurial clinicians with a skill set that would bring a new leadership capability to the NHS.

To address this NHS England in partnership with Health Education England has launched the Clinical Entrepreneur Programme 2. This national scale workforce development initiative allows clinicians to undertake entrepreneurial activity alongside their clinical work. It provides a coaching and mentoring scheme, less than full‐time training opportunities, advanced industry internships, customer matching, connections to funding and education, and networking events. In year one, 104 junior doctors were appointed, 50 start‐ups created, >£50 m in funding raised and a ‘brain drain’ was turned into a ‘brain gain’, with 34 doctors who had left medicine or were about to leave returning to work in the NHS. In year two, >220 clinicians have joined the programme. In future years we aim to include patients and citizens. By bringing all to the centre, as we re‐imagine and re‐design healthcare, will we have the best chance of getting it right.

The clinical entrepreneurs will ultimately number in the thousands and will act as ‘multilingual’ frontline agents for change, adoption, and spread of innovation throughout the NHS and beyond.

At the BAUS annual conference this year some of the current cohort will be pitching their start‐ups on the main stage. Why not join us and welcome the new generation of specialists in healthcare – the Clinical Entrepreneurs.

 

Tony Young
Innovation NHS England, Southend University HospitalInnovation Mid and South Essex STP, and School of Medicine, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK

 

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