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Nursing staff with ideas need more support, says award-winning nurse inventor

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Doctors get much more official NHS support than nursing staff to develop products that can improve patient care, according to an entrepreneur nurse who says things must change.

Some trusts are also guilty of taking credit for nurses’ ideas as well as failing to encourage them, claims district nurse Neomi Bennett, the brains behind the multi award-winning Neo-slip product.

“There’s not usually any benefit or gain to the nurse”

Neomi Bennett

Neo-slip, a low-cost device which helps people pull on compression stockings, was recently given the seal of approval by the NHS Supply Chain. It is currently used by about 34 hospitals and the product is also on sale in some Boots stores.

However, Ms Bennett told Nursing Times that it was an ongoing struggle to promote her invention to trusts and called for much more support for nurse innovators like her.

She claimed NHS organisations could sometimes hijack nurses’ bright ideas, meaning they did not benefit from their own inventions, despite having put time and effort into developing a concept for a new device or product.

“One of the biggest problem is when nurses do come up with an innovation, there’s not usually any benefit or gain to the nurse – not that nurses go into nursing for that,” she said.

“A lot of the time trusts just take responsibility,” she said. “One nurse I met just got a mention in the local hospital bulletin, but is basically no longer involved in developing her own idea and that is a shame.”

“We are continually innovating to improve care for our patients but it goes unrecognised”

Neomi Bennett

Ms Bennett, who was short-listed for a Nursing Times award in 2011 and has since won other innovation accolades and prizes, said the fact nurses may not get the credit for an idea or benefit from an innovation risked putting them off trying.

Meanwhile, she said support for nurses to develop ideas was generally poor – especially when compared to support for doctors – despite the fact nurses were instinctive innovators.

“Especially with the pressures that nurses are working under at the moment, we are continually innovating to improve care for our patients but it goes unrecognised,” she said.

“Being in the med-tech industry I see a lot of support and encouragement for doctors. I have seen doctors develop products and they are able to use their product in practise,” she said. “As nurses, we’re not even allowed to talk about it, because we’re told it is a conflict of interest.”

Ms Bennett said nurse innovators tended to have “multiple ideas” and revealed that she was working on a couple of new products herself.

“Just in my day to day duties, I see nurses innovating with small things that could actually be turned into something fit for purpose that would benefit patients,” she said.

“Most nurse innovators have got lots of different ideas, so if trusts were to nurture those nurses, I am sure they would find so many improvements,” she told Nursing Times.

NHS Supply Chain

Trusts ‘highjack’ nursing ideas, warns nurse entrepreneur

Neomi Bennett

Ms Bennett developed Neo-Slip in 2013 to help patients who need to wear anti-embolism stockings but can find it hard to get them on.

Nurses were resorting to using ordinary plastic bags to help apply the tight-fitting stockings, so she came up with a sheath that slips over the end of the foot, making it easier to slide on the stockings – and more likely that people actually wear them.

Last year, the product was made available on prescription by NHS Supply Chain and, in May this year, was approved for use across the NHS.

Ms Bennett, who has won a scholarship from the Florence Nightingale Foundation, recently co-authored a paper with Nicola Thomas, professor of kidney care at London South Bank University, in the British Journal of Nursing on the successful introduction of Neo-slip to an orthopaedic ward.

She said one of her key goals was to ensure her product was affordable to patients and the NHS.

“I still work as a nurse to make ends meet,” she said. “I have funded Neo-slip myself and put all funds back into the business.

“I took advantage of government start-up loans and won awards with cash prizes that I again invested back into the business to get the product off the ground,” she noted.

An appearance on TV show Dragons’ Den in 2015 helped raise awareness of the product, although she did not get the investment she was seeking.

Ms Bennett, who provides elective placements to nursing students, giving them an opportunity to learn about product development, the NHS Supply Chain and legislation, said she would like to see nurses get much more support from the health service itself to develop and market innovative ideas.

NHS England and Health Education England run a Clinical Entrepreneur programme to help clinicians develop their ideas and business skills, giving them access to mentoring, training and help to find funding.

“Stage by stage, we’re trying to let hospitals know the product exists”

Neomi Bennett

However, until recently, it was only open to doctors. It has now been expanded to healthcare scientists and dentists and is due to be rolled out to nurses and others later this year, although this has not happened yet.

Ms Bennett, who studied nursing at Kingston University and qualified in 2012, said her goal was to see Neo-Slip used by every trust in the UK, but highlighted it was tough juggling work, her business and family life.

“I don’t have a marketing or sales department. So stage by stage, we’re trying to let hospitals know the product exists,” she said. “To say it is hard work is an understatement, because I didn’t set out to be a business – it is not my area and I am still really out of my comfort zone. I just want to be a nurse, to be honest, as that is what I enjoy.

“Nothing in this process has been made easy. I have met lots of other entrepreneurial nurses and they say the same,” she told Nursing Times.

“There are so many challenges – even trying to present the product as a nurse to other nurses can sometimes present problems. It’s almost like there is this hierarchy in a hospital and, as nurses, we are not always seen as business people,” she added.

NHS Supply Chain

Trusts ‘highjack’ nursing ideas, warns nurse entrepreneur

Neo-slip poster

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Totally agree with Neomi Bennett' s challenges she's had to meet in her product. One has to have some form of hierachy to present an idea which will benefit the client. If you are a nobody your idea is stolen and then presented at a later time by someone who in the first place did not have anything to do with it.

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  • If an inventor protects their idea, it is theirs. The key thing is non disclosure: tell no one -not even family or friends- your idea; don't even say you have an idea, as that may give them a clue to your thinking. For objective proof of when you had an idea, write out full details of your concept and send it to yourself by registered mail. keep the package unopened in a secure location. In the event of any dispute, you can then show when you got the idea. If the idea is good enough, you may be able to get help with patenting. But above all, ZIP THE LIP.

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