About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Nesta launches Health Lab

Today Nesta is launching a major new initiative - Health Lab - to create a people powered health system.

Health is a powerful leveller. All of us are patients at one time or another. Many of us have received outstanding care; care which we and our loved ones have depended on. But we also know that many health and care professionals are under unsustainable pressure, that care can feel chaotic, reactive and disempowering, and that the system is at financial breaking point.

The response is often to focus on the hardwiring of the existing system - re-drawing organisational boundaries or improving national targets and efficiency measures. But these solutions are inadequate. The challenges facing the health and care system demand new responses that lie outside current ways of doing things.

The ageing population is a powerful driver of change in health, with increasing numbers of people living with more than one long-term condition. At Health Lab, we focus on the relationship between health and ageing. The challenge is how to improve health and wellbeing in the context of living longer lives. The opportunity is to create solutions for living with multiple long-term conditions that matter for everyone.

Health for people, by people and with people

We believe the answer lies in creating a health system that is for people, by people and with people. This means providing healthcare for people when they need it, enabling people to manage their health in their everyday life, and connecting people into networks that help support one another. This is our vision for a people powered health system.

Over the past six years, Nesta has built up a diverse portfolio of work on health and ageing. We have led over £10m of practical innovation programmes in health and ageing; designed and run challenge prizes, including the Longitude Prize on antibiotic resistance; published over twenty health and ageing reports, including an award-winning business case on people powered health; and established a £17m impact investment fund with a focus on ageing.

We have also co-founded the Coalition for Collaborative Care, a national alliance working towards people powered health at scale, and actively supported the development of what works centres, including the Centre for Ageing Better. We are passionate about improving evidence of impact and integrating standards of evidence into all our work.

Our practical work has focused on four broad areas:

First, we have built ‘more than medicine’ support for people with health conditions, including informal networks and impactful volunteering. For example, we’re supporting six patient and carer charities to improve their peer support networks. This means people with the same condition, such as stroke or lung disease, give one another emotional and practical support to live better day to day.

We are also working with ten hospitals to embed new models of volunteering focused on tasks which staff would like to do, but don’t have time for - such as being there when a patient wakes from anaesthetic and settling them back into the ward.

Second, our work has also focused on models of consultation in which professionals work in partnership with people to achieve their goals. We have supported ‘social prescribing’ in GP practices in which doctors use care and support planning to work with people on their priorities. The ‘social prescription’ can include joining community groups for friendship and support, as well as more structured support such as health coaching.

Third, the role of digital technologies in creating new data and knowledge is a core area of interest. We are particularly interested in knowledge generated by people themselves, using smartphones and wearables, which is useful to them day to day and is also clinically valid. There is great potential in creating communities of patients who find data feedback helpful and who are also happy to generate robust research data that increases our understanding of the treatment and management of health conditions.

And, fourth, through our People Powered Results work, we have engaged the whole of local health and care systems, including the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors, in 100 day sprints that create networks of motivated professionals solving problems in real time.

Solutions have included improving discharge rates from hospital through, for example, moving discharge times to the morning instead of after lunch. The method has been tested in Essex with promising early results in terms of measurable impact on key metrics and increased collaboration across the system.

Relationships, networks and knowledge

What all of these approaches have in common is a focus on creating new relationships and behaviours (amongst both citizens and professionals), new networks of support and new knowledge powered by digital technologies.

Over time, we are seeing some of the innovations we have backed significantly grow their impact. Shared Lives Plus is a powerful model of family-based care which is increasingly recognised as a way for people to live independently in family contexts. Newcastle Ways to Wellness have developed their social prescribing scheme into a social impact bond.

Buddy, a simple digital tool to support therapy services, is now being taken up by psychological services. And Stockport Council is taking its approach to co-production in mental health to other long-term conditions in the context of Devo Manc.

What next

All this has been possible through collaborating with other organisations who share our mission to create a health system for people, by people and with people. We have worked together to influence the agenda and to create change on the ground.

But we want to achieve more. Health Lab brings together our practical work on health and ageing to achieve more impact. We want to increase the value we generate from across Nesta’s varied work on health and ageing, and grow the impact of our practical work in particular.

We are looking for partners to work with, who share our vision for a people powered health system and who want to join us to create real change to improve people’s health and wellbeing.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can watch this film, read about our work, or email us at [email protected].


Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Halima Khan

Executive Director, Health, People and Impact

Halima was the Executive Director of the Health, People and Impact. She led Nesta’s work in health and also oversaw people (human resources) and impact for the organisation.

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