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'See as a patient and spot your brilliant idea'


I am not alone in my belief that there are lots of geniuses in nurses’ uniforms, as I said last week.

This week, the Royal College of Nursing held a dinner in London to reward three nurses for innovative, nurse-led projects.

Chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter told the assembled throng that savings of £20bn across the NHS in the next four years would not be made by recruitment and pay freezes. He said that service redesign was the only way to transform the NHS. And stated frontline nurses were well placed to deliver that.

He was followed by Mat Hunter, chief design officer at the Design Council, who convinced us that the rules of innovation are the same, whether it be a service or a product that’s being designed. The most important rule is that the client, user, guest or patient are at the heart of what you are creating.

He showed us a pretty chilling video of an innovator who was working for a hospital. He lay on the bed filming all he could see. Which wasn’t much - just two glaring strip lights above his bed. But the tape picked up all the noise of the ward, and it was uncomfortable to discover just how unnerving and isolating that hubbub was when you couldn’t see what was causing the sounds.

The nurses set up some mirrors so patients would feel more connected with their surroundings. Pretty obvious stuff but, until you’ve walked in your patients’ shoes, you can’t know what needs to be done. Observation and empathy are vital to making things better.

You don’t just need to know what you have to do - you have to care about it and want to change it for the better. That’s what really makes nurses good innovators.

As one of the finalists, Leanne Cook, told me: “My motivation is seeing the patients get better and become part of society,” adding: “Being at an event like this surrounded by these people when you’re just a coalface nurse is inspiring.”

If you want more details on the three finalists’ achievements, see my blog at


Readers' comments (8)

  • Is it just me or are all these 'innovations' simply about trying to save money rather than patient care?

    And what do we do when we have these innovative ideas exactly? Many of us are already fighting and banging our heads against the wall just trying to ensure best practice for patient care is being upheld!

    Trusts will not allow any 'innovative' idea to go forward unless it saves them a fortune, and that is what it is all about. Money. Many Nurses have many great ideas on numerous aspects of patient treatment and care but they will get ignored by management who will not even get enough staff on the damn wards!

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  • mike | 2-Feb-2011 9:43 pm

    I just wonder whether you ever get to see your organisation's balance sheets?

    Unfortunately no resources are infinite.

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  • Anonymous | 2-Feb-2011 10:13 pm, I agree, but to be honest when vast amounts of money are spent on the wrong things (admin, beauracracy , executives, etc) and clinical care and front line staff are the first to be hit by cuts, then I'm sorry but the resources argument doesn't hold much water.

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  • mike | 3-Feb-2011 7:57 am

    in that case we need to give the new government a chance now they are here to stay for a while and listen to their proposals. Nurses are always complaining that their voice is not heard but equally they need to listen to that of others as well. Obviously to continue in the right direction bureaucracy must be reduced and more funding shifted into front line staffing in order to provide far better staffing levels with a new, improved and equitable salary structure and appropriate working conditions and the provision of high quality patient care for all that need it. Working relationships with clinical managers must improve radically in order to achieve this but it must remembered that without appropriate administrative and managerial support, which is also extremely costly, to free up front line staff for patient care hospitals and other healthcare facilities would not survive.
    It seems that the nhs has struggled far too long with trying to patch up old and out of date administrative and professional practices, salaries being a case in point, that all has exploded out of control and is no longer appropriate for the level of services or recruiting, training and maintaining the very best calibre of administrative, professional and other personnel.

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  • I have to agree with the sentiment of the article (regardless of the issues around getting the view heard/innovation brought in). I had the experience this week of giving a talk to a service redesign event with my 'patient hat' on & tried to be clear that some issues with care/processes might not be intent/how system set up, but something you could only see when going through the system or looking at it from patient's perspective. Most of the comments afterwards related to 'but we never realised it could feel like that/that happens' & some actions already planned to address.
    If we're to undertake our role as patient advocates (& know we can never be true independent advocates), we have to try and see/represent things from their point of view. Hence "Better Together" (Scotland, and whatever the other country equivalents are).
    As in the mirrors example/the winners, it doesn't always have to cost money.

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  • Anonymous | 3-Feb-2011 3:01 pm, don't get me wrong, I'm all for giving the new government a chance, believe me. I actually agree with many of the cuts, I see the necessity of them thanks to the ridiculous state the country was left in under Labour; however, I believe that there are some areas which should be absolutely protected from any cuts at all, frontline healthcare (not including execs and beauracracy, etc) frontline policing, military, etc. Especially when things like the foriegn aid budget has been protected and banks are still allowing billion pound bonuses! I also believe that many of the changes that are happening now to the NHS - whilst some MAY (and I do stress that word) lead to positive change - will most likely lead to a much direr situation for both Nurses and patients unless things are handled differently. Take the GP consortia for example, at a time when Nurses should be taking a lead in the shaping of the NHS, we are being given no say at all and shunted off to the sidelines as if we were the ye olde meek little assistants of times past. I take your point about the need for management/admin, but I still think that it is a SMALL necessity, and there should certainly be a cap on how much is needed and how much execs etc get paid; I mean their argument of 'we need to attract the best talent by paying higher salaries' certainly doesn't seem to be applied to the most important group now does it? (Namely Nurses, just to punctuate the point!) Like you say, we need more frontline staff, better working conditions, and a pay scale for Nurses that will attract and retain staff, as well as providing us with the small hope of being able to live on the salary! We don't need to be told there is no money to do that by a group of execs on three times our salary!

    And back to the point of the article, I still think the principle of 'well done, you've improved patient care' is still a much better sentiment than 'well done, you've saved a bit of money'!

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  • Heather Henry

    I agree with Jenni. In my time as a PCT commissioner I think that nurses are extremely empathetic to the patient's perspective and can spot many opportunities to improve care. Unfortunately nurses and other disciplines are not often asked proactively for their views as part of the commissioning process. Indeed nurses don't often see themselves in a commissioning role and I argue that their talents should be 'spotted' and encouraged, especially by other senior nurses who can offer them support and confidence to get their ideas heard.

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  • Would it be possible for us as nurses to put forward money-saving ideas? I was a project manager before coming into nursing and I have seen many ways to save money but as yet, no one seems to listen.

    We are currently letting fat-cats dictate the way the money is saved. Are they on the front line? Are they thinking of anyone but themselves? You can bet that if they achieve the final amount needed to be saved they will award themselves a big payout which i wrong.

    We need more nurses, not less and we need to start being vocal about it! How many people are going to die in the cost-cutting process?

    Please could anyone who agrees help me find a way to help the NHS save its money without the loss of lives. Thanks

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