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Looking back on the past 12 months, COVID-19 has undoubtedly had a seismic impact on health and social care in Scotland. While the rollout of the vaccination programme in early 2021 provided hope and encouragement, the pandemic continues to challenge us personally and professionally.

We must continue to meet its challenges head on and with added determination.

To do so requires resilience, hard work and an expansive, forward-thinking mindset, while capitalising on Scotland’s status as a truly innovative nation.

What does that mean in practice? For SHIL, it is about innovating to help solve problems and address needs in the NHS and social care. It is about working in partnership to deliver innovation at scale, creating jobs and fresh opportunity. It means encouraging everyone working across health and social care in Scotland to get involved.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas and uniting knowledge, talent and expertise from across the sector is central to our work.

With almost two decades of experience within health innovation, SHIL has laid the foundations for sustainable growth, efficiency, and meaningful transformation, underpinned by a highly motivated team. In this time of rapid change, it is of course vital that SHIL evolves as the healthcare innovation landscape adapts to meet current pandemic challenges, but also that our work has an impact beyond immediate challenges.

Indeed, as we reflect on 2021 and look positively to the possibilities of what may lie in store next year – including our 20th anniversary as an organisation – it is incredible to think what has been overcome during the past 12 months, and that human endeavour has prevailed in extremely challenging times. Most of you will have continued to work from home – an ongoing professional and personal balancing act – and we have all become accustomed to facemasks as a daily ritual. Generally, ‘normal’ life still feels on hold, with COVID fatigue unsurprisingly setting in at times.

Yet, just because some aspects of the pandemic have become routine, that does not mean that the exceptional circumstances of 2021 should not be recognised – nor the incredible commitment, agility, and expertise within our NHS and across Scotland. The enduring qualities of hard work, commitment and adaptability have served to not only protect us but drive forward recovery, growth and a strengthening of the innovation ecosystem.

SHIL has played an important role in the ongoing COVID response – assessing innovative ideas, providing expert intellectual property and regulatory advice, and encouraging health professionals to submit ground-breaking ideas through dedicated funding calls.

Our COVID-19 funding call generated a wealth of new ideas. From this, an innovative piece of equipment, named the SARUS-CPR hood – an acronym of Safer Airway Resuscitation – was invented by Professor Peter Stonebridge, NHS Tayside’s Medical Director.

This small, lightweight hood made from transparent fabric creates a barrier between the patient and the individual performing resuscitation. The hood reduces the risk of contamination and infection from bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19.

The clinical and manufacturing expertise of others, combined with SHIL’s intellectual property and commercialisation expertise accelerated the SARUS hood’s launch onto the market, and it has now been formally adopted into clinical practice.

Innovation can come in many forms, and we currently have a sustainability call open following the COP26 conference in Glasgow, recognising the drive to create a healthcare service which is both environmentally and socially sustainable.

We are also working to align with NHS priority areas – frailty for example, including artificial intelligence for predicting and preventing falls.

Our innovation calls are designed to ensure that support and expertise are available to translate the energy, enthusiasm, talent and expertise within our NHS into meaningful improvements.

Significantly, and at a crucial point in the pandemic, SHIL was further able to underline its commitment to progressive, indigenous health and social care by unveiling a collaborative five-year strategy. This outlined its ambitions to sit at the heart of an entrepreneurial Scotland fostering the best in Scottish innovation and supporting a world-class NHS. SHIL’s strategic goals highlight its directional aspirations, an expansive vision and a renewed mission statement.

It is a timely publication, detailing how SHIL plans to work with and support those leading innovation in the NHS during one of the most challenging periods in its history.

With the pandemic highlighting the vital importance of ground-breaking ideas, SHIL’s role in supporting, facilitating, and developing those ideas from health and social care professionals has taken on renewed importance.

Undoubtedly, the NHS is now a different environment and rapidly coordinating work – through close working with NHS, academia, industry, and funders – that can benefit Scotland’s health and wellbeing priorities has taken on a new imperative.

Now, at the close of the year, we can look back proudly on a health service that was stretched to its limits, but reacted with speed and precision to an unprecedented pandemic – and continues to do so amid the emergence of a new variant – coupled with a complex, ongoing vaccination programme, on top of annual winter flu issues.

However, the NHS still needs considerable help and that is why organisations like SHIL are so important.

So, what might we be able to expect in terms of innovation in 2022? We believe the direction of travel is very much towards collaboration to support the NHS recovery and beyond, not to mention accelerated tech-based ideation, given the vast potential 5G connectivity has for spurring change through artificial intelligence, cloud technology, virtual reality, and more.

Strong partnerships with initiatives like the Scottish Health and Industry Partnership Group (SHIP), the Centre for Sustainable Delivery (CfSD), and the country’s diverse test beds, will play a vital role in supporting national efforts to remobilise, recover and redesign.

Fundamentally, we must continue to embody an open mindset. Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects for us in our 20th year is the sense that innovation remains limitless and can still take us by surprise. Regardless of pandemic problems and where we might find ourselves in 2022, we shall retain our sense of wonder at Scotland’s infinite capacity for ingenuity.

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