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What innovation means to me

Tony Young

By Professor Tony Young

Similar to other clinicians, I’ve had lots of ideas over the years on how to make improvements within the medical technology (MedTech) sector that enhance patient outcomes and save the NHS money. My experience of innovating within healthcare began as a junior doctor, when studying for a PhD. Looking to set up my own company inspired by my research, I soon discovered that the path between idea and reality was far from straightforward.

For my first commercial idea, a sheath that allowed outpatient cystoscopy to become a reality, it proved impossible to secure funding from the NHS, banks or venture capitalists. I ended up re-mortgaging my house to self-fund the business. Since then, I have started three further companies, receiving £5 million of funding and learning a lot of lessons along the way about how to best innovate in my sector.

I define innovation as ‘invention, adoption and diffusion’. An innovator doesn’t necessarily need to have a breakthrough concept, but the product or service must be something that is taken up successfully and effectively across the system.

Innovation is also about copying and adopting things from others, sometimes too much wheel re-inventing goes on. Equally important is being flexible, adaptable and never giving up.

No matter who you are, you can have a great idea, challenge traditional ways of thinking and change things for the better. You need passion to succeed too as there are times when you need to dig deep. My passion comes from a desire to make a difference to patients and the population. I feel privileged that I can use my education and training to benefit others. I believe that we need to move away from the paradigm of ‘research and development’, instead embracing the concept of ‘research to innovation’; thinking at the edges and pushing boundaries. Right from the start, we must be considering the impact research will have on the lives of patients tomorrow.

Collaboration is another key factor, especially in health and social care. Encouraging economic growth in the MedTech sector will only be achieved through partnership, working with a broad range of private and public sector bodies to catalyse and accelerate products and services that will transform patient care.

Professor Tony Young’s career has encompassed the roles of front-line clinician, entrepreneur, innovator and academic. He is a practicing Consultant Urological Surgeon at Southend University Hospital, the Director of Medical Innovation at Anglia Ruskin University and the inaugural National Clinical Director for Innovation for NHS England.

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