Over £1.8 million awarded to support innovation in maternity care, autism & learning difficulties

Over £1.8 million awarded to support innovation in maternity care, autism & learning difficulties

Awards totalling over £1.8 million have been made to a range of innovations in maternity care and in the support of autistic people and people with learning disabilities.

Successful projects include ways to identify and address perinatal mental health inequalities among Black and South Asian communities, and support for the world’s first neurodivergent wellbeing platform. 

The funding is being delivered by SBRI Healthcare, an initiative by the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) initiative – a partnership between patient groups, government bodies, industry and the NHS hosted by NHS England and delivered in partnership with Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). 

Both competitions were 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 and innovations that can prove their impact and potential will be able to seek further funding for prototype development and evaluation. The aim is for successful technologies to be adopted for use by the NHS.   

The innovations in maternity care include Artificial Intelligence to help diagnose perinatal post-traumatic stress disorder; 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 anaesthesia. 

Innovations to support autistic people and people with 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. 

Narrowing inequalities in maternity care 

While the UK is among one of the safest places to give birth, maternity care is impacted by health inequalities.  

Black and Asian women are more likely to die during pregnancy, and childbirth and poor pregnancy outcomes such as preterm birth, foetal growth restriction, and stillbirth disproportionately affect Black and Asian women from the most socio-economically deprived backgrounds. 

1 in 4 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. 

Healthcare sought innovations specifically for perinatal mental health, risk identification, stratification, and intervention, and support for women post-discharge.  

The ten companies and organisations who share the award are: 

 

In response to the announcement of the awards, Charlotte Burrows, Program Director, Design at the South West Academic Health Science Network (South West AHSN) and member of the judging panel, said:  

The need for investment in perinatal health equity is significant, and I am proud that we are starting to address this challenge through a range of innovative approaches.” 

Charlotte directs the South West AHSN’s Perinatal Health Equity Programme, our first regional health equity programme focused on perinatal health and care. Through our programme we are identifying and spreading innovative practice that can help to close equity gaps during the perinatal period, improve access and outcomes, and engage with those who are least likely to seek support.  

Innovations that support autistic people and people with learning disability 

Over £900,000-worth of funding has also been awarded to innovative solutions that will tackle challenges around the early detection of autism and/or learning disabilities, and around the provision of appropriate and relevant support and care equally to patients, their families and carers. 

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 both have 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. 

The ten companies and organisations selected to receive an award with the focus on narrowing inequalities for autistic people and people with a learning disability are: 

 

Matt Whitty, Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences at NHS England and CEO of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, said: “The SBRI Healthcare awards help the NHS to develop new technologies and solutions to address some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing society. 

We have selected these innovations because they have the potential to make a big difference in tackling health inequalities in maternal health, and in autism and learning disabilities. By supporting the most promising innovations the NHS will continue to evolve, helping meet more patients needs and encouraging more innovators to come forward with ideas that make a difference.” 

Full details about the competitions, the innovators and their solutions can be found on the SBRI Healthcare website.   

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