Moving to Missions: an ambition to make NW London ICB the most research and innovation friendly in the country

12 October 2023

Charlotte Benjamin, Chief Medical Officer of NW London Integrated Care System (ICS), and Axel Heitmueller, Managing Director at Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP), share an ambitious new approach to research and innovation in NW London, which aims to have greater outcomes and impact for the population.

Charlotte Benjamin.jpgCharlotte Benjamin details NW London’s new ‘Mission-led’ approach to research and innovation, and how we hope to create impact for our population.

It is widely recognised that our NHS - like many other healthcare systems around the world - is slow to adopt and implement innovation and benefit from research systematically, despite the potential for life-changing impact for our populations. In NW London we have a thriving research and innovation (R&I) ecosystem, and we are committed to harnessing the power of R&I to improve the health of our citizens. We have an ambition to become the most innovation and research friendly ICS in the country. Whilst the numerous organisations that make up this ecosystem are delivering impact in their own right, a more coordinated, collaborative approach has the potential to increase this impact for population benefit.

Over the last year, the NW London Research & Innovation Board - made up of senior representatives from across all ICS organisations, academic institutions, and R&I bodies - including Imperial College Health Partners (ICHP) - and chaired by Sir Mark Walport - has established that, to have more impact through innovation, we need to focus the work we do together on a smaller number of priorities. Working collaboratively on these priorities, aligned with the wider NW London strategy, is where collective effort can lead to bigger gains. We’re calling this defined and deliberate portfolio of innovation projects - which will help the system address a small number of major priorities for health improvement - the NW London Missions.

Moving to Missions

In NW London, we already have an incredibly strong platform to use the public sector investment in research and innovation (for example, through the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s Applied Research Collaborations - or ARCs) to make a visible and meaningful impact in addressing the health needs of our local population. It also gives us a prized location from which to connect with academia and the life sciences industry to maximise this sector contribution to improve the NHS and social care.

A Mission-led approach will encourage a much more systematic use of research and innovation as a fundamental feature of how we do our work. To both improve outcomes in population health and health care, and to prevent ill health and tackle health inequalities, the NWL Missions have been identified as:

  • Optimising care of long-term conditions (starting with CVD)
  • Ensuring the right care setting to reduce harm (starting with the acute pathway)
  • Supporting children and young people’s mental health. 

This approach will help us to be more deliberate and purposeful in maximising the impact for our population and achieving greater outcomes. We know that we can’t create this real impact for our patients and citizens without doing things differently. Status quo will not deliver the system’s objectives and the NW London Missions’ potential for life-changing innovation and transformation. That’s why we’ve commissioned ICHP - as the innovation arm of the NW London ICB - to help mobilise this Mission-led approach, and ensure that our local system can benefit from research and innovation.

Axel_Heitmueller_ICHP_Informal_2-700x500.jpgAxel Heitmueller shares how ICHP has started to facilitate collaboration and coordination of the NW London Missions.

As the innovation arm of the NW London ICS, ICHP has been commissioned to facilitate the coordination and collaboration of this new Mission-led model. We’re in a unique position in the sector, having been created by and for the the NHS to support exactly this kind of complex change across the health and care sector, with a purpose to innovate through collaboration for a healthier population.

Mission possible: embedding innovation

But what do we mean by innovation? For us, innovation is about real-world uptake - of supporting the adaption and adoption of new technologies, pathways, or models of care - across our health and care settings. This is, and always has been, our focus at ICHP. What NW London’s Mission-led approach means, is that we can drill down our focus to three specific areas - or priorities - which are particularly well-suited to benefit from research and innovation.

Working collaboratively across our NW London ecosystem on a smaller number of projects for a longer duration, with a focus on delivering greater impact, is how our system will focus on delivering sustainable innovation.

And of course, this Mission-led approach is building on existing collaboration and impact across the system. As outlined in our recently published Impact Report, strong relationships across the NW London healthcare and innovation ecosystem continue to enable a deep understanding of local sector needs, whilst real-world evidence data hub, Discover-NOW - the London Secure Data Environment - and our partnership with Ipsos UK, ensures we can underpin any transformation with actionable quantitative and qualitative insights. In the last year, these approaches have been cited as best practice in the Goldacre Review and Government’s Data Saves Lives strategies respectively, with our public deliberation work also cited in the Hewitt Review.

The Mission approach will allow us to spread and scale some of these pockets of success so that even more of our population benefits.

The Mission methodology

Supporting the adaption, refinement, and adoption of innovation requires a set of methods and mindsets: bringing together the right people and networks, with the right skills and capabilities, to tackle the same problem. This is core to our innovation methodology.

Our focus in this first phase of Mission mobilisation has been applying a disciplined method to identify projects that will be the focus for implementation, alongside qualitative and quantitative analysis and synthesis, and horizon scanning for solutions. We’ve harnessed our local, national and international networks across NHS, research and industry, as well as engaging patients and service users to embed the voices of those with lived experience.

Harnessing real-world evidence to gain insights into each of the three Missions is essential to shape the work moving forward. We are committed to maximising health and wealth through the intelligent use of quantitative and qualitative data, supporting NW London to turn clinical interactions into data, data into information, information into insight, and insight into action. 

The Mission mindset: Innovation Networks

And once we have identified opportunities for innovation, how do we move from ambition to action? As highlighted, we need to bring together the right people and organisations, with the capabilities, opportunity, and motivation for new approaches to be implemented. This can be described as an Innovation Network.

The creation of these Innovation Networks will mark the next phase of the NW London Mission-led approach, as we move from mobilisation to delivery.

For more information, email

Download the NWL ICS Missions ‘one-pager’ here

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