‘Innovators study’ – Exploring how innovation in patient safety and quality of care is achieved by individuals working within the NHS

9 June 2017



Innovation in healthcare is said to be notoriously difficult to achieve and sustain yet simultaneously the health service is under intense pressure to innovate given the ever-increasing demands placed upon it. Whilst many studies have looked at diffusion of innovation from an organisational perspective, few have sought to understand how individuals working in healthcare innovate successfully. We took a positive deviance approach to understand how innovations are achieved by individuals working in the NHS.


We conducted in depth interviews in 2015 with 15 individuals who had received a national award for being a successful UK innovator in healthcare. We invited only those people who were currently (or had recently) worked in the NHS and whose innovation focused on improving patient safety or quality. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the interview data.


Four themes emerged from the data.

Personal determination – Determination, focus and persistence were important personal characteristics of innovators as were skills in being able to challenge the status quo.
Ability to connect people and teams – Innovators were able to connect sometimes disparate teams and people, being the broker between them in negotiating collaborative working.
Using organisational culture to their advantage – The culture of the organisation these innovators resided in was important with some being able to use this (and the current patient safety agenda) to their advantage.
Importance of robust data – Gathering robust data to demonstrate their innovation had a positive impact and was seen as essential to its progression.


This study revealed a number of factors which are important to the success of innovators in healthcare. We uncovered that innovators have particular personal traits which encourage a propensity towards change and action. Yet, for fruitful innovation to take place, it is important for relational networks and organisational culture to be receptive to change.

For more information about this work please contact Laura.Sheard@bthft.nhs.uk