Tammy Holmes

Tammy Holmes

Innovation brokers

Tammy Holmes, Innovation and Adoption Programme Manager for the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) looks back on the first year of its Meridian Innovation and Adoption Service.

It its simplest, WMAHSN is a catalyst for the spread of proven innovation at pace and scale - improving health, generating wealth and employment and delivering changes throughout the health and social care economies. We’re often described as brokers: connecting people, patients and populations, and creating the right environment for new and productive partnerships between the NHS, academics and industry.

There are three elements to the service: comprehensive IP support (provided by MidTECH), an industry gateway delivered by Medilink West Midlands and an online health innovation exchange, also called Meridian, where people can share, network and inform our work.

The Meridian exchange offers virtual access to the service and the opportunity to connect with the wider healthcare community, and share and adopt good practice with more than 600 active users and counting.

When we began to develop the health innovation exchange, we weren’t entirely sure what our future members might need, but we did know that it needed to be simple to register and easy to navigate. At an operational level, the Meridian health innovation exchange has three main features, so members can share and promote, ‘push’ opportunities for wealth and health improvements and ‘pull’ ready-made solutions for their specific challenges, or areas they have identified for improvement.

We have also built in what we call an ‘Innovation Warehouse’, which is essentially a stockpile of stories about companies, entrepreneurs and innovators, highlighting how they identified and tackled their challenges, about products, skills, finance, or any of the multitude of issues which growing and ambitious businesses face.

In this area, members can contact each other directly, if they like the work of others, if they would like to discover more, or if they believe they can offer potential solutions to challenges.

Elsewhere, there is a wide range of discussions, sometimes about specific issues, but often on topics with much broader appeal, such as proof of concept, and we also have links to both other AHSNs and to national initiatives.

The Meridian exchange is very much focused on all the needs of the West Midlands’ healthcare community, so we also have regionally led campaigns where users can provide details of their innovations; at the moment, we have 170 such innovations available for all users to view.

We pride ourselves on being very proactive, so if we realise that someone has posted too much information, in their enthusiasm, we contact them, and remind them of issues around IP.

I have worked across the NHS, academia and the private sector to acquire and enhance the key skills I require to broker new relationships and develop collaborative projects, so I am often able to help members.

Equally, there are occasions when members create their own innovative solutions to challenges, and are happy to share their discoveries with myself and others.

I must admit, the first year in which the service has been operating has been even more successful than we hoped, and it was very pleasing to see we had attracted interest from overseas, with members coming from as near as Germany and as far away as the US.

As we move into our next year, we are looking for new ways to add value to the Meridian Innovation and Adoption Service, as we want the community which is being created to grow organically. We even held a physical event in February 2017, Meridian Live, which was tremendously successful, so we’ll certainly be holding a second one. We’re also hoping to launch an Innovation Fellowship programme, which would help to build connections between innovators and decision-makers.

People new to the NHS usually think it’s a single organisation, like a giant whale, and they’re surprised when I say it’s more like a very large shoal of fish… swimming in roughly the same direction.