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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Covid-19 has shown us how to transform healthcare, now UK government must act – IPPR

New ‘mission based approach’ to adopting new tech, digital and medical advances would support the nation’s health and wealth

The UK government should look to capture the spirit of NHS innovation that has emerged during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, argues a new report by the IPPR think tank. Previously the NHS has had a reputation for slow and inconsistent uptake of innovation – causing avoidable variation in care quality and outcomes. However, the outbreak accelerated the successful adoption and spread of new technologies, digital tools and care processes in just weeks.

The report, The Innovation Lottery, highlights the case of digital consultations in primary care. While in March to April 2019, 71 per cent of GP consultations in England were face to face; the most recent Royal College of GPs data shows that 71 per cent were remote at the same point this year.

The authors argue that Covid-19 has created the conditions for a ‘mission based approach’ to the spread of innovation in England. It has done this by establishing a clear common purpose; forcing national leaders to put forward clear frameworks, guidance and funding; and pushing government to empower local practitioners. It is a sharp change from the risk-averse, bureaucratic and tick-boxing environment the researchers identified before the crisis began. It is crucial we do not allow that orthodoxy to return after the Covid-19 outbreak ends, according to IPPR.

Good for health, good for wealth

While the first phase of Covid-19 did not overrun the healthcare system, the pandemic led to a startling number of other health impacts:

  • A drop in urgent cancer referrals to 25 per cent of normal levels (across the UK)
  • Half the normal A&E attendees for heart attack symptoms (England)
  • A 52 per cent increase in excess deaths attributed to dementia (England and Wales)

This is likely to increase demand and undercut performance in the health and care sector for years to come, according to researchers.

Innovations in the healthcare system could help address the long-term impacts of the virus. In the working age population alone, it could help avoid 20,000 deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke or dementia.

IPPR says that spread of innovation will also boost to our economic recovery. Modelling by IPPR and CF – a healthcare management consultancy and analytics company – shows this could generate £18 billion per year for the UK economy. This would come from more people staying in work longer (£8.3 billion), as well as a stronger life science industry (£9.6 billion). Meeting international standards for the spread of innovation could also save the UK’s healthcare services an estimated £10 billion per year.

Cementing the Gains

While many factors influence the improvement of healthcare, the report argues that the UK government can begin to make these gains in England by maintaining the levels of innovation catalysed during Covid-19. Critical will be adoption of a ‘mission based approach’ by the UK government. This would see them set overall objectives for health innovation; set out clear guidance and funding; and then empower healthcare workers in England by providing:

  1. Time – Staff are currently asked to deal with innovation beyond their normal working hours. The government should fund bespoke clinical time for staff to focus on spreading innovation
  2. Relationships – Introducing infrastructure for a more highly networked  in England would help support the spread of better practice.
  3. Reward – There is no reward for staff driving genuine transformation in the healthcare service. An ‘innovation award’ should be introduced for those who make the most measurable progress.
  4. Funding – While money is available for research and development, there is no funding available for spread and implementation. A four-year £10 billion transformation fund should be introduced in NHS England to spread existing innovative practice and bring the healthcare service into the 21st century.

IPPR argues that, taken together, this new approach has the potential to provide a significant boost to the health service and its workforce at a time it is dearly needed.

Chris Thomas, IPPR Research Fellow and lead author of the report, said:

“Covid-19 has been a catastrophe – for our collective health, wealth and society. And while the NHS in England was not overrun, we paid a dear price for that in the form of cancelled treatments, delayed cancer diagnoses and avoidable excess mortality. The UK government must urgently get us back on track.

“Making sure everyone can get the best care, regardless of their postcode, will require a new approach. The old ways of box ticking, cost control and efficiency savings must end. In its place, a new approach must champion transformation, and actively empower healthcare workers to deliver that change.

“Our research shows that transforming the NHS’ offer across England will be key. It would provide huge economic gains. It would provide cost savings for the health service. Most importantly, it would provide better care for patients and service users, at a time of record need and demand.”



David Wastell, IPPR Head of News and Comms, 07921 403651  [email protected]

Robin Harvey, IPPR Digital and Media Officer,  07779 204 798, [email protected]

Report authors Chris Thomas, IPPR Research Fellow, and Harry Quilter-Pinner, head of IPPR’s Better Health and Care programme, are available for interview.

Case studies available – General Practitioners with experience of innovation in practice. Please contact IPPR for more information.


  1. The IPPR paper, The Innovation Lottery, by Chris Thomas, Harry Quilter-Pinner and Prashant Verma, will be published at 0001 on Monday June 29. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request.
  3. Case studies available – please contact IPPR for more information.
  4. Analysis was undertaken by CF – a healthcare consulting and analytics company. A technical annex is available:
  5. A previous IPPR report, A Lost Decade, published in October, revealed that the UK life science sector has stagnated since 2010, losing out to global competition and receiving a smaller share of global investment, costing the UK economy around £45bn. Download the report here:
  6. To calculate the potential to save 20,000 lives every year, the research team calculated mortality rate averages in comparable countries. The diseases covered were cancer, stroke, dementia and cardiovascular disease – the UK’s four biggest killers. Population weights were used for each condition. The possible reduction in deaths was established by comparing the impact if the UK matched the best performing peer country for each disease. The gain is specific to the working age population.
  7. To calculate the £8.3 billion economic benefit to the UK economy, the research used the above mortality and morbidity comparison to establish the projected increase in economic contribution in the working age population. This used an average ‘gross value added’ score, with controls for workforce participation and the amount of improvement possible through the healthcare system and innovation (rather than wider social policy).
  8. The research also established the £9.6 billion impact of improvements to the innovation environment, based on restoring UK life sciences to their higher 2010 levels. This includes a) attracting the same UK share of global life science investment as in 2010 and b) life science manufacturing creating the same proportion of value, relative to overall UK manufacturing.
  9. The economic benefit is the total benefit that could be expected in year one. It is possible that this could continue to increase in subsequent years, as more people avoid disease because of newly adopted innovation.
  10. To calculate the potential saving to the health and care system (£10.3 billion), the team established the average care costs in the UK by disease area. Using project mortality and morbidity improvements, we calculated the proportion of that cost that could be avoided.
  11. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.