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Header image for the current page Using a hackathon to tackle complex NHS challenges in a day

Using a hackathon to tackle complex NHS challenges in a day

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Lifting our heads up high enough to look beyond immediate pressures is a constant challenge in the NHS but is essential in developing new services and anticipating emerging needs.

As part of Arden & GEM’s strategic commitment to enabling innovation, the CSU recently held its first ‘innovation hackathon’ event to find and develop solutions to complex challenges facing the NHS. Combining expert speakers, facilitated multidisciplinary working groups, discussion and voting, the session successfully identified ideas and themes which are now being taken forward with the intention of benefiting Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and individual NHS organisations.

The approach used in this hackathon is proving helpful in supporting future service innovation and has already led to a demand for similar events to help ICSs tackle specific healthcare challenges within their own systems.

Why a hackathon?

Hackathons typically bring together individuals with diverse skill sets and backgrounds to collaborate on solving complex problems or creating innovative solutions within a limited timeframe. They provide a rare opportunity to combine highly experienced practitioners across disciplines including finance, digital, clinical and consulting, to enable a ‘short sharp’ input of their expertise in addressing a common challenge.

Unlike other methods such as agile working, a hackathon is built around a healthcare problem, leaving the participants free to come up with their own ideas and not be constrained by what is already in place or proposed. Considering a wide range of angles and hearing from different voices secures early buy-in, and helps to ensure resources are focused where they are most needed and are appropriately supported to bring the expected benefits to bear.

Our approach

For this event, we selected four challenging areas: delivering quality through workforce transformation, digital transformation in primary care, performance transformation through use of better intelligence, and value improvement in corporate services. We engaged expert speakers to both inspire and energise participants at the start of the day, and share their thoughts on the specific challenge areas. Sir Mayur Lakhani CBE brought a focus on primary care with a talk on excellence in the sector. Tim Robinson, Commercial Director for the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network, shared insights on research and innovation for integrated care while Professor Sultan Mahmud, Chief Digital and Innovation Officer for BT Healthcare, covered digital innovation in the NHS.

Participants were organised into pre-set multidisciplinary groups and given a specific challenge to work on and facilitators were armed with tools to take each group through the stages needed to capture fresh ideas and solutions. Each group was tasked with developing a long list of ideas, before shortlisting and eventually selecting their top idea to put forward for voting. The day culminated with each team putting forward their top idea for collective digital voting. The ‘winning’ solution was then pitched in full to the whole group for feedback and questions, with additional expert commentary from the panel of speakers. 

Critical success factors

There were several elements we built into the day which helped maintain engagement and strengthen outputs:


This first event was geared towards developing new solutions to support the NHS in tackling major challenges. The ‘winning’ idea was a proposal looking at how we can better use technology to improve access to GP services and reduce the 8am burden on practices. The successful pitch is now being taken forward for further assessment and development by our team, alongside a wealth of wider ideas and themes that emerged from the hackathon, including:

Arden & GEM has committed to running an annual hackathon to enable future customer-led innovation. However, we also see huge potential in this approach for the NHS and wider ICSs, which has been borne out by the positive feedback from participants from this pilot event. With a clear focus and the right mix of skills and experience, the hackathon approach allows a free exchange of ideas and information sharing outside of the normal constrains of organisational working. Together with other organisational development and integrated planning programmes, hackathons can help ICSs develop collaborative solutions to some of their most complex, system-wide challenges.

You can read the full version of this blog on Healthcare Leader's website.

Picture of Alison Tonge

Author: Alison Tonge |

Alison is Executive Director of Strategy and Innovation at Arden & GEM and is responsible for ensuring our organisational strategy, innovation process and planning approaches are robustly developed and delivered. With over 30 years’ experience in healthcare, she has held senior leadership roles within NHS England, provider Trusts, a Canadian integrated care system and the private sector. Alison has a passion for enabling quality and cost improvement through evidence-based innovation, mobilising action at scale, and a focus on analysis measurement and accountability.