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01.12.2017 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

BMC Health Services Research 1/2017

How is success achieved by individuals innovating for patient safety and quality in the NHS?

BMC Health Services Research > Ausgabe 1/2017
Laura Sheard, Cath Jackson, Rebecca Lawton



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.


Four themes emerged from the data: personal determination, the ability to broker relationships and make connections, the ways in which innovators were able to navigate organisational culture to their advantage and their ability to use evidence to influence others. Determination, focus and persistence were important personal characteristics of innovators as were skills in being able to challenge the status quo. Innovators were able to connect sometimes disparate teams and people, being the broker between them in negotiating collaborative working. The culture of the organisation these participants resided in was important with some being able to use this (and the current patient safety agenda) to their advantage. Gathering robust data to demonstrate their innovation had a positive impact and was seen as essential to its progression.


This paper reveals a number of factors which are important to the success of innovators in healthcare. We have 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.
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