On Thursday 21st September, the second annual Innovate Awards were held in London, delivered in partnership between the Academic Health and Science Network (AHSN) – the innovative branch of NHS England, and NHS Confederation – a membership body representing healthcare in the UK.

The awards showcase and celebrate outstanding innovators and partners across the health and care sector, this year were awards forming 11 separate categories, with the 11 category winners competing for the 12th overall award for ‘Innovation Champion of the Year’.

Award Categories

  1. Net zero Innovation of the year
  2. Diversity in innovation award
  3. Excellence in patient and public involvement in transformation and innovation award
  4. Innovation spread award
  5. Best workforce innovation award
  6. Innovation helping to address health inequalities
  7. Outstanding contribution to population health through innovation
  8. Innovative health system of the year
  9. Outstanding collaboration with industry
  10. Enabling safer systems of care through innovation
  11. Best use of data in health innovation
  12. Innovation champion of the year

Now in their second year of existence, the Innovate Awards evolved from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a need for huge transformation and adaption to the way care was traditionally delivered across the NHS and necessitated creative thinking and a new drive for innovation. The ‘rebuild’ of services required following the pandemic pushed the NHS into unprecedented waters, highlighting challenges of epic proportions that the already flailing NHS had not yet seen before; increasing demand, record waiting lists, unfilled vacancies, mounting financial pressures and an extremely depleted workforce made the need for reform even greater.

Suddenly, Covid had created the perfect storm – an ideal opportunity for innovators to step in to help solve some of these challenges, to take an innovative and proactive approach like never before.

Richard Stubbs, Vice Chair of the AHSN Network and Chief Executive of Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, led the coordination of the awards evening. During the opening ceremony he said:

“As always it is incredibly humbling and inspiring to be able to recognise and celebrate the amazing work of our NHS staff and their partners as they improve the ways in which the health service provides patient care.

There is so much energy and dedication shown by frontline staff to make sure that we all have the best outcomes and experiences when we need to use the NHS.

Our job now is to make sure that all this amazing work is spread to every corner of the country so that everyone can benefit from these innovations.”

This year the awards received over 190 innovation entries from health and care teams across the country. The judging panel rigorously whittled down the entries to 56 finalists, and earlier this year, we were thrilled to discover that The Real Birth Company, with our Real Birth Digital Programme, had been selected as finalists for the ‘Innovation Helping Address Health Inequalities’ category.

This category had the highest number of applications across all the awards. Also nominated within our category were Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Brent ICP with Brent Health Matters, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, NHS GM Bury with NIA fellow myHappymind, and the Childrens Hospital Alliance.

The first to be announced was the ‘Highly Commended’ award in this category, which went to myHappymind, whose programmes have been designed for schools, families and nurseries who care and support the developing mental wellbeing of children.

Next to be announced as the winner of this Category was The Real Birth Company! We were so shocked and completely overwhelmed to be winners of this highly prestigious award!

When asked how she felt when The Real Birth Company was announced as the winner of this category, Zoe Wright , Founder and Director, recalled, “I was speechless! There were so many amazing innovations in our category. I turned to Dan, our Project Manager, and said, “Did they just say us?”. I am incredibly proud of the team and their hard work. It was very overwhelming!”

The award was presented to us by category sponsor representative from Boehringer Ingelhiem, and the absolutely wonderful, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, and host of the event.

Why this award matters

We have been designing and creating our digital technology in collaboration with service users and clinicians for six years. As a team, we have a huge amount of combined experience and expertise and understand the importance of creating services and products committed to keeping service users central to its core.

Our key goals within the business are to reach as many people as possible through our digital technology, helping them to access high quality evidence-based information to support their birth.  Aiding individuals’ understanding of their body and their baby, and the processes which they go through in birth. Facilitating choice to help empower and enable individuals to make informed decisions regarding their care is key.

Covid has changed the landscape of the NHS; even now, 3 years on, many services have not yet returned to how they were ‘pre-pandemic’. In maternity specifically, many Trusts have struggled with the return of antenatal education provision due to ongoing challenges with staffing and resources. As data began to emerge from Covid research, it became apparent very quickly that individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds, including those who were pregnant, were being disproportionately affected. Whilst Covid-19 brought awareness of these heath inequalities to the forefront for the general population, health inequities in maternity care have been apparent for over 10 years.

Winning the award means so much to our team, not only as recognition of all the collective hard work that has been poured into the business over the years to create our digital programme, but also as recognition and acknowledgement that more needs to be done to reach and support the most vulnerable people within our communities.

The NHS has a duty of care to provide health services to meet the needs of everyone, that is free at the point of access, and available based on clinical need rather than an individual’s ability to pay. As a maternity service we must ensure we are meeting these founding principles and providing a service that is fit for purpose to be able to support the demands of a modern and dynamic population.

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan which began in 2019, the Government is investing a significant amount of money to uplift health services to provide a more modern approach to care to meet the needs of our changing population. There is a strong emphasis on developing digital technologies and services to enable service users to access their maternity records and information directly from their smart phones or other devices, and our Real Birth Programme has been designed to do just that. The programme can be accessed directly from an individual’s digital health records, and is designed to provide relevant up to date, evidence-based and holistic information in preparation for birth.

We have created the first multi-lingual antenatal education programme which supports the use of non-threatening language, to impart information with a positive birth message, which helps to reduce fear and normalize birth for women and birthing people from all nationalities and backgrounds.

As a team we strongly believe that all birthing people should have the ability to access high quality birthing information that they deserve.

“Myself and the team all share the same values about providing resources that birthing people want to access and health care teams can trust. We fully believe that no-one should receive care or treatment that they do not fully understand”

~ Zoe, Founder & Director, The Real Birth Company.

How does this help the community?

Women and birthing people from marginalised groups, those with protected characteristics and those in the lowest socio demographic groups, have limited access to individualised health care options, leading to poorer health outcomes. Numerous reports from MBRRACE, Ockenden, Kirkup, 5x More, and Invisible have all demonstrated the higher maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity rates, due to the health inequalities experienced by these groups.

Those pregnant from global majority ethnic groups, who have protected characteristics or those who are from marginalised communities, often have additional unique needs that are not acknowledged or prioritised effectively by clinicians. This leads to poor health outcomes, higher rates of intervention, sickness and ill health, and a cascade of further intervention and medical concerns throughout life.

The Real Birth Company has proved through its data collection and feedback processes, that birth preparation information specifically designed and targeted towards people from global majority ethnic groups and those with protected characteristics, improves outcomes, increases engagement and satisfaction with healthcare providers and improves health outcomes for mothers and their babies.

Our unique digital health technology can reach more birthing people than traditional methods, enabling individuals to receive antenatal heath education and information in a convenient and easy to use format that they understand – whether by breaking down a language barrier or by supporting a learning need – our programme has it all. Supporting people to have better outcomes, supports a better outcome for baby, which improves the overall health and wellbeing of the community, impacting the nation’s health, not just for now, but for generations to come.

When asked what she was most proud of within the organisation, Zoe replied, “I am very proud of how such a small team can have such a positive impact at scale across the UK. Being able to see where we are having an impact and receiving feedback from people using our product is extremely humbling”.

We are so proud that our work has been recognised and thank every person who has helped along the way for their time, vision, and expertise. Together we can support a much needed change.