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Duty to innovate

December 2, 2009

At a seminar on NHS innovation recently, someone mentioned that the NHS has introduced a new duty to innovate.  This is absurd.   I was sceptical when they introduced the duty to co-operate as part of the statutory framework for local area agreements.  How was that supposed to work?  The council sues the police force because the BCU commander hasn’t replied to their emails promptly? 

But legislating innovation is even more insane.  At least we can imagine a scenario where a public agency blatantly and steadfastly refuses any attempt to engage with the LAA process.  What scenario can we imagine where someone had failed to promote innovation?  Not least because the theory about how innovation arises is complex and disputed.  Could we sue the NHS because they are obstructing local political influence over health and therefore impeding the ability of visionary local politicians to deliver new thinking?  Whether you think that is clearly right or clearly wrong (I know people who would be on either side) it illustrates the nonsense of legislating for something so vague and challenging.

Realistically, I think what the NHS means by innovation is not what you or I mean.  They mean “getting health services up to a basic modern standard”.  If this is true, maybe the legislation is marginally less ridiculous.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2009 11:29 am

    Good post.

    Legislation – or statutory instruments – should say what they mean. Woolly legislaton which captures the spirit of what’s intended, but includes no practical letter of the law is pointless in a Common Law system.

  2. December 2, 2009 1:29 pm

    I agree. Innovation means doing something unexpected, different, mould-breaking. Imposing a “duty” in this regard is an oxymoron and makes no sense.

    I will be very interested to see how health scrutineers pick up on this and use it. I would hope that they will challenge any attempts to interpret the word “innovation” as meaning “marginally improved processes”.

  3. December 8, 2009 8:09 pm

    While it does sound a bit daft, I do believe there is real money attached to this duty to innovate, so it isn’t just empty words. Perhaps the language isn’t quite right, but surely it’s best to support an initiative that aims to make things better, rather than to denigrate it?

  4. Amelia Walker permalink
    December 11, 2009 10:27 am

    It’s a good point – should we celebrate things that are well intentioned but badly executed? It’s better that the intention is there than not, but does it encourage the pubic sector to embrace mediocrity?

    This is an incredibly important issue if we genuinely do want innovation. Having low expectations has been amply demonstrated to be a factor in low performance. If the NHS genuinely wants innovation and excellence, it should be an exemplar in the way it goes about promoting it.

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