SBRI Healthcare has awarded over £1.8 million for the development of 20 innovations that help narrow inequalities in maternity care and autism and learning difficulties as part of its ‘Competition 20 Health Inequalities’ initiative.

SBRI Healthcare is an Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) initiative – a partnership between patient groups, government bodies, industry and the NHS hosted by NHS England, delivered in partnership with the AHSN Network.

Maternity care

The innovations in maternity care include AI to help diagnose perinatal PTSD, a digital product to support breastfeeding and early parenthood, a platform to support women from marginalised communities and minority ethnic groups, a portable incubator to keep babies and parents together, and a new needle design for spinal anesthesia. Find a full list of innovations at the bottom of the page.

One in four women experience mental health difficulties during, or in the 24 months following pregnancy, and maternal mental health challenges are associated with both large and lasting personal and societal costs.

Tragically, maternal suicide is the leading cause of direct deaths within one year after the end of pregnancy.

Alongside progress being made by the NHS Long Term Plan, the Maternity Transformation Programme, and the Core20PLUS5 initiative, the new funding aims to accelerate change and use the best of cross-sector collaboration and technical expertise.

Dr Matthew Jolly, National Clinical Director for Maternity and Women’s Health, NHS England, said: “The SBRI Healthcare awards are another step forward in delivering the NHS Long Term Plan commitments for maternity care, including postnatal care for women and their families.

“It’s fantastic to see so many projects promoting innovation and learning to support the NHS to achieve the very best, evidence-based maternity services – they will help to accelerate the NHS’ action to deliver the latest medical innovations to patients – improving access to support and reducing health inequalities in maternity care.”

Autism and learning disabilities

The innovations in autism and learning disabilities include a peer-to-peer platform to support the mental health of autistic young people, a digital support needs assessment for autistic adults, virtual reality scenarios to help people overcome phobias and social anxiety adapted to support individuals with a learning disability, and a first-of-its-kind wellbeing platform designed by and for neurodivergent people.

It is estimated that about 1.5 million people have a learning disability in the UK, and about 800,000 people are autistic. Many people have both a learning disability and are autistic. There has been a rise in referrals for autism assessment, with systems under pressure to meet demand, and significant health inequalities can impact access to the right support for autistic people and people with a learning disability.

Alongside progress being made by the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England’s Transforming Care Programme, and the Core20PLUS5 initiative, the new funding aims to accelerate change and use the best of cross-sector collaboration and technical expertise.

Dr Lorcan Kenny, National Research Lead for Autism, NHS England, said: “NHS England remains committed to improving healthcare for autistic people and people with a learning disability, who can face significant health inequalities. Innovative technology along with good quality research about its effectiveness will be key in achieving some of the goals set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, such as reducing diagnosis waiting lists, delivering efficient services and improving coordination and quality of care.”

‘Competition 20 Health Inequalities in Autism and Learning Disabilities’ and Maternity care was launched in May 2022, as a Phase 1 development funding competition, funded by the AAC, in partnership with the AHSN Network and Autistica. It specifically sought innovations to help with early identification and diagnosis and equal access to effective support and care.

The competition was open to single companies and organisations from the private, public, and third sectors, including charities and NHS providers.

The projects will run for up to six months, with the aim to demonstrate whether the innovations are technically feasible. Innovations that can prove their impact and potential will be able to seek further funding for prototype development and evaluation, with the aim for successful technologies to be adopted for use by the NHS.

The SBRI Healthcare Competition 20 – Health Inequalities in Maternity Care awarded projects are:

Barnardo Services Limited – awarded £97,813 – The Universal Language: Addressing perinatal mental health inequalities among the Black and South Asian community through a hyper-local offer which draws on national teams and digital assets

The project aspires to address perinatal mental health inequalities in identification and access to care among Black and South Asian communities through a hyperlocal offer, which draws on national services and digital assets. This co-designed offer will allow women, birthing people, and partners to access a choice of multi-channel services, while retaining local, relational support.

LatchAid Ltd – awarded £100,000 – LatchAid: A smart, scalable, and accessible solution for breastfeeding and early parenthood support to address health inequality in maternity care

LatchAid is an award-winning app utilising cutting-edge 3D interactive technology, an AI-powered virtual companion leveraging 1-to-1 specialist support, and virtual support communities, to provide families with scalable breastfeeding and early parenthood support 24/7 and address health inequalities in maternity care. LatchAid’s NHS pilot in four ICS’ demonstrated a x2 increase of exclusive breastfeeding rates at six weeks postnatally compared with the national average.

Damibu Ltd – awarded £95,932 – Research on ‘hyper-localisation’ of digital health information to address Maternal Health Inequalities as experienced by different localities and cultures

Damibu Feeds is a platform for creating, managing and delivering public-facing health information. The project addresses maternal health inequalities experienced by minority groups (culture, language, ethnicity, sexuality, faith etc.) by exploring how digital health information can be ‘hyper-localised’ to better meet the needs of these groups.

2SN Healthcare Ltd – awarded £99,861 – JanamApp

JanamApp is a mobile application designed to improve perinatal health and reduce health inequalities and maternity outcomes by addressing educational, cultural and social barriers in pregnancy and postnatally in the South Asian population. The information within the application provides culturally sensitive information in multiple south Asian languages.

Sheffield Hallam University – awarded £98,512 – DigiCP – Addressing Health Inequalities through the Digitalisation of Perinatal Mental Health Care Pathways for Service Providers and Users

Development of a digital service that will support health service users to navigate existing care pathways. The interactive digital service will be accessible and employ conventional techniques to allow service users to engage with a care pathway based on their own individual experiences.

First 4 Health Group – awarded £98,722 – Maternal psychosocial risk identification and follow-up group clinics

A data-driven maternity service in GP surgeries, that utilises a maternal psychosocial risk identification tool to proactively flag up women at-risk across preconception, pregnancy and post-birth, so that they can be followed up and supported by healthcare professionals.

Digital Care Systems – awarded £99,993- CarePath-ASSIST project: Improving diagnosis of perinatal PTSD with a platform for AI Supported Serious Illness Screening and Treatment

Increasing access to assessment is a critical element of national efforts to improve perinatal mental health after birth trauma. Digital Care Systems is using knowledge-based and conversational AI to support mothers in getting access to the right care by empowering them to get the right assessment at the right time. The tool will ensure all mothers have access to treatment and enable them to raise concerns when care is not meeting their needs.

mOm Incubators Ltd – awarded £99,707 – Bringing the mOm Incubator Home: How a Home Healthcare Approved Incubator Could Reduce Newborn Ill-Health Risk Escalation and Readmission, Keeping Mothers, Families, and Babies Together

A lightweight, compact, portable incubator designed to extend neonatal and newborn care to new settings across hospitals. The project plans to extend this to use outside the hospital setting. The aim is to support newborn children to get home earlier, reduce family separation and reduce the risk of hospital readmissions.

The Real Birth Company – awarded £93,065 – The research, development and pilot of the Real Birth Company’s ‘Giving Birth to your Baby Early’ Module, created to support marginalised communities at higher risk, to raise awareness of Preterm Birth, the Neonatal Journey and to help improve Perinatal Mental Health

The creation and development of this digital module will help people understand and prepare for what to expect in a premature birth, including why their birth may be different and the neonatal journey. The aim is to reduce the associated fear and stress in labour, supporting perinatal mental health.

Buckingham Medical Technologies Ltd – awarded £98,664 – Solving the problem of failed spinal anaesthesia: fluid dynamics of spinal injections and a new spinal needle design

The development of a new design of spinal needle that reduces the impact of failed spinal anaesthesia as a consequence of incorrect needle placement. Research will include in-silico and in-vitro testing of fluid dynamics of spinal injections, healthcare inequalities assessment and patient engagement, and new design optimisation.

The SBRI Healthcare ‘Competition 20 – Autism and Learning Disabilities’ awarded projects are:

The University of Sheffield – awarded £99,972 – Co-development of Personalised Support Profiles for Autistic Adults Post-diagnosis based on the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Functioning Core Sets for Autism

The aim of the project is to co-develop a digital support needs assessment for autistic adults. This will be known as a Personalised Support Profile assessment. It will produce a report on a person’s strengths and needs and identify things in the environment that help or hinder day-to-day life.

UNEEG medical UK Ltd – awarded £98,405 – Subcutaneous EEG monitoring for people with intellectual disabilities or autism

24/7 EEG SubQ – ultra long-term subcutaneous EEG monitoring for accurate counting of seizures.

The project aims to determine whether there is a possibility this new technology may be suitable for patients with moderate to severe learning disability.

RIX Software – awarded £83,277 – RIX Multi Me Toolkit – for person-centred Integrated Health and Care for People with Learning Disabilities and Autism

The RIX Multi Me Toolkit enables people with a learning disability and autistic people to capture their needs and share how best to provide them with support and healthcare, using simple multimedia apps and a secure online support network. This project will refine these tools in partnership with service-users and providers.

Little Journey – awarded £79,615 – Supporting all children to better health through personalised care: Co-designing improved inclusivity and accessibility functionality within an existing digital eSupport tool to enhance access to support for autistic children undergoing healthcare procedures and participating in clinical trials

A digital eSupport platform designed to psychologically prepare, support and inform children, and families, throughout healthcare interactions (both routine care and clinical trials). The project will research and co-design improvements to its inclusivity and accessibility profile, with specific reference to autistic children and children with learning disabilities, broadening reach and furthering it towards providing a fully personalised solution.

XR Therapeutics – awarded £96,653 – Creating a more accessible mental health intervention for individuals with autism and learning disabilities

XR Therapeutics provides a VR supported intervention to treat anxiety and phobias. The focus for this project is to adapt its model to support individuals with a learning disability, develop new scenes to help patients access healthcare, and create a roadmap to support mass adoption across NHS Trusts.

Uncommon – awarded £98,419 – The world’s first neurodivergent wellbeing platform bringing affordable and effective mental health and wellness solutions to neurodivergent people across the globe

Uncommon is a universally accessible digital wellness platform, which helps neurodivergent GenZers understand and celebrate their unique minds, take control of their mental health, and achieve their education, career and personal goals.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust and oVRcome – awarded £91,112 – Supporting patients with Learning Disabilities and/or Autism to ‘oVRcome’ phobias & social anxiety in their own homes

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust and oVRcome are developing a Virtual Reality programme to support patients with a learning disability and/or autistic people to overcome anxieties around healthcare situations, including social stories to help patients prepare for interactions with healthcare services and VR Exposure Therapy to address needle phobias and social anxiety.

MeeToo Education trading as Tellmi – awarded £88,472 – The Tellmi Autism project: Digital innovation to reduce suicide and increase access to effective support for autistic young people

A free-to-access, digital, pre-moderated, peer support service with integrated psychoeducation, suicide prevention, and diagnostic screening tools to improve mental health in autistic young people

Health Companion Ltd – Health Fabric – Unity – awarded £95,600 – Multilingual platform to improve autonomy for autistic service users

The Unity platform from Health Fabric is an AI enabled self-management platform to enable people from diverse communities / ethnicities to manage the challenges associated with autism and empower the family to support autistic young adults to develop skills around autonomy (especially those who transition from child to adult services).

Maldaba – awarded £96,396 – Improving Annual Health Checks and Design EMIS interoperability

This project will open up a digital communication pathway between primary care and service users so that Annual Health Check (AHC) and Health Action Planning (HAP) processes will be more inclusive and provide better access to health and care services, including health promotion.

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