Charlotte Fox is an innovation manager for the City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, where she’s been in her current post for two and a half years. She studied at the University of Sunderland for her B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences followed by an M.Sc. in Drug Discovery and Development. Her role involves raising awareness of innovation and challenging the status quo by exploring new and improved ways of working. Charlotte is mum to three-year-old Alice and one-year-old Jack.
“…By far the best part of what I do is when we solve an unmet need and can show we have enhanced the quality of the care we give our patients…”
My career to date
Well, firstly I wish I could go back in time and tell the 17-year-old me who opened her AS-level results revealing she’d failed miserably (E,E,E,U) that it wasn’t the end of the world!
13 years later I’m a senior manager in the NHS with a degree in biomedical sciences and a masters with distinction in drug discovery and development… Take that college lecturer who wanted to pull me from their chemistry course!
After staying on at college for an extra year I attended the University of Sunderland, where I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. I also worked for a short time as a postgraduate research assistant in oncology – which gave me my first taste of clinical research.
I always wanted to work in healthcare since the age of four. I was admitted to hospital and placed under the care of a doctor who had ‘clippy cloppy’ (high) heels and a handbag – I wanted to be her! But, alas, I had to settle with being a clinical trials officer (CTO). As a CTO I facilitated numerous clinical trials in several specialities across the entire organisation (City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust).
Building up my organisational and project management skills helped me to secure my current role as innovation manager.
Facilitating bright ideas
The innovation department facilitates bright ideas that come from staff within the organisation. We also collaborate with companies to develop solutions to unmet needs in healthcare. So, a typical day might involve meeting a member of staff or a company representative to discuss a particular bright idea or innovative project.
The key to successful innovation is collaboration – we therefore engage with a number of different stakeholders both internally and externally. My role is to ensure projects are managed efficiently and are effective – that any innovation or change we implement is positive.
I get to use my research expertise daily too. I enjoy supporting and helping people to understand the importance of thoroughly evaluating any innovative service or quality improvement initiative they may wish to undertake.
The best part
I work closely with patients and staff to help identify unmet needs – problems, limitations within healthcare and then working with them to develop a solution. We may develop the solution ourselves in collaboration with patients, staff, and academia as well as business experts, or there may be a solution already out there in existence.
By far the best part of what I do is when we solve an unmet need and can show we have enhanced the quality of the care we give our patients.
Projects I’ve worked on
The biggest project I’ve worked on was when I started my role as innovation manager. Innovation in the NHS was new to me and to my colleagues. After defining ‘innovation’ and where we felt we sat within the organisation, the first step was to build a structure and a process for innovation. A pathway to facilitate bright ideas from staff would only be successful if we could create a structure to support that as well as a culture for innovation.
After securing funding, we were able to achieve the structure and start to develop an Innovation Team. After initially starting out with an administrative assistant and my director two years later we have a director for research and innovation (clinical), two deputy directors for innovation (clinical), myself, a management trainee, administrative assistant and five innovation scouts in senior roles within the organisation.
I can’t take any credit for that of course – everything we do is as a team. I am incredibly fortunate to be guided by progressive and supportive clinical leads – our director and deputy directors.
By establishing a structure and process for innovation which spans the whole organisation we are able to capture and facilitate bright ideas from all members of staff. Trust employees can now get help and support with their innovative ideas and the organisation benefits from collaborative relationships with external stakeholders.
Measuring innovation in the NHS
Innovation can be measured by the amount of intellectual property you have registered; for example, trademarks, copyright or patents you may have filed.
However, innovation in the NHS doesn’t just include registered forms of intellectual property, in fact most innovation in the NHS is in service improvement. Part of my role is to encourage staff to evaluate their service improvements so that they can be measured for impact – whether this is qualitatively or quantitatively it is so important to consider how you will measure the success of any innovative service improvement before, during and after implementation in order to conclude that the service improvement was successful.
Working alongside colleagues in other parts of the UK and overseas
Our trust is a partner organisation of two regional networks. The Academic Health and Sciences Network and the National Institute for Health Research’s Clinical Research Network, both of which cover the North East and North Cumbria geography.
I therefore have the pleasure of working with numerous colleagues across a large geographical area giving me access to a wide range of expertise and collaborative opportunities. Many different organisations benefit from the symbiotic relationship with both networks – I get to work closely with companies that offer business support to the NHS as well as being able to collaborate with and benefit from access to academia and clinical research expertise.
Our trust has a fantastic reputation for being able to deliver research to time and to target which has led to several national and international companies approaching the department to work on innovative projects.
Passion is a must. Resilience is imperative
No matter what role you go into in the NHS it’s about making a difference and striving to ensure the best possible quality of care to patients. Passion is a must! At your core you need to be passionate enough to make a difference. The NHS is by no means an easy place in which to work and resilience is imperative.
Now, more than ever, we need to ensure the NHS evolves to reflect today’s society and population and that we are proactive and not reactive to the healthcare issues we are due to face over the next decade.
Coming up next
Our trust has recently formally committed to collaborating with a neighbouring trust to transform services to ensure the local community both organisations serve receive high quality, safe and sustainable hospital and community health services now and in the future.
One of the values within the collaboration is continuous improvement through research and innovation.
Exciting times lie ahead and many more innovative projects to come – innovating for patient benefit!