SBRI Healthcare has awarded over £900,000 for the development of ten innovations that help narrow inequalities in maternity care.
SBRI Healthcare is an Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) initiative - a partnership between patient groups, government bodies, industry and the NHS hosted by NHS England - and is delivered in partnership with the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).
The innovations 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.
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.
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.
‘Competition 20 - Health Inequalities in Maternity Care’ was launched in May 2022 as a Phase 1 development funding competition. In consultation with clinicians, nurses, midwives, and other stakeholders working in the provision of care across the maternity care spectrum, innovations were sought specifically for perinatal mental health, risk identification, stratification, and intervention, and support for women post-discharge.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) Healthcare is an Accelerated Access Collaborative funded initiative that provides funding to innovators to develop solutions that tackle existing unmet needs faced by the NHS. The programme aims to improve patient care, increase efficiency in the NHS, and support the UK economy. The SBRI Healthcare team, through support from the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), works closely with clinicians and frontline NHS staff to identify key challenges from within the service, focusing on specific areas recognised as priority by NHS England.
The Accelerated Access Collaborative is a unique partnership between patient groups, government bodies, industry and the NHS. It delivers ambitious programmes to ensure the NHS is in the best place to improve patient outcomes and reduce health inequalities through research and innovation. It does this by identifying the best new medicines, medical devices, diagnostics and digital products. It supports providers and integrated care systems to make them available to patients as quickly as possible. In addition, the AAC supports increasing participation in research and access to research trials. Over 1.6 million patients have benefited from its programmes to date, helping patients spend over 278,000 fewer days in hospital and saving the NHS over £185 million.
There are 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England, established by NHS England in 2013 to spread innovation at pace and scale – improving health and generating economic growth. Each AHSN works across a distinct geography serving a different population in each region. As the only bodies that connect NHS and academic organisations, local authorities, the third sector and industry, AHSNs are catalysts that create the right conditions to facilitate change across whole health and social care economies, with a clear focus on improving outcomes for patients.
Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes Attributable to Socioeconomic and Ethnic Inequalities in England, The Lancet, 2021, MBRRACE-UK report 2021, NICE Perinatal Mental Health, The cost of perinatal mental health problems, LSE & The Centre for Mental Health, 2014, Maternal suicide still a leading cause of death in first postnatal year, Maternal Mental Health Alliance, 2021.