Digital health innovation: Dragon’s Den and the NHS

Dragons’ Den has made its mark in the NHS.  Here Raj Purewal, business development and partnerships director at TRUSTECH (  @TRUSTECH_NHS), the NHS innovation experts, provides an insight into how it’s being embraced.

Dragons’ Den is on our screens again, and for more than a decade it has helped many start-ups and small companies crack the market.  A string of successes have followed with some of the innovations now household names; Levi Roots made his debut 10 years ago.

Transferring best practice from one sector to another is increasingly attractive, and the Dragons’ Den style initiative offers compelling benefits for healthcare; an opportunity that TRUSTECH started a few years ago.  Trying to get ideas in front of the right people is incredibly challenging in the NHS.  Entrepreneurs and SMEs face a tough task, particularly as most do not have access to the level of resources available to large commercial organisations.  The issue here is that potentially great innovations simply do not make it because the process is too complex.  Subsequently the NHS, and ultimately patients, miss out on the innovations that could make a significant difference.

The key is to capture these ideas at an early stage, to encourage entrepreneurs to share their ideas and to provide a mechanism where digital health innovators are linked up to decision-makers in the NHS.  Dragons’ Den style initiatives have already proved extremely popular in the NHS as a highly effective way, both financially and operationally, to identify and evaluate innovations including digital health products and solutions.

Most NHS organisations report it is very time consuming to identify and evaluate new technologies, so a programme of this type streamlines the process.

My advice for any entrepreneur or SME with a digital healthcare innovation is to look out for Dragons’ Den programmes in the NHS.  It’s an extraordinary opportunity to get in front of NHS managers with responsibilities for identifying, evaluating, approving, procuring and adopting digital innovations in healthcare.

One of the big differences from the popular television series, is that NHS organisations do not demand a percentage of the companies’ profits in exchange for any financial support.  Instead organisations may offer an evaluation of the innovation in an NHS environment, and results pending, could then be procured and commissioned.

A question that’s always asked is how the process compares to the format people have seen on television.  Following ‘a call’ for digital healthcare technologies, the best and most promising ideas are filtered out.  The selected innovators then pitch their offers to a panel of dragons in exactly the same way; and answer questions fired to them at the end of their presentations.  TRUSTECH has been running these programmes for some time, and whilst part of the appeal is the fact that it is unusual, different, and an exciting process that everyone involved feels part of; it is also one that has a serious side which sees digital healthcare innovations judged on sustainability, cost-effectiveness, ROI, value and the potential to improve healthcare.

The most current example of this is at Salford CCG which is running a Dragons’ Den programme to identify innovators creating telecare, mobile apps, and connected self-management tools that can be used to improve the lives of patients with long-term conditions (LTC); these are currently in the evaluation phase.  Its total fund made up of individual awards was significant; so is an attractive route for digital health innovators.

Dragons’ Den is an ideal platform to showcase digital healthcare innovations, and for the people behind the ideas to gain a much better understanding of the issues that the NHS faces.  It is likely to gain further traction as the NHS seeks ever greater savings and efficiencies, and this can only be a positive step forward for digital healthcare.

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