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SBRI Healthcare awards £900,000 to accelerate innovations that support autistic people and people with learning disability

23 November 2022

SBRI Healthcare has awarded over £900,000 for the development of ten innovations that help narrow inequalities for autistic people, and people with a learning disability.

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 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.

‘Competition 20 - Autism and Learning Disabilities’ was launched in May 2022, as a Phase 1 development funding competition, funded by the Accelerated Access Collaborative, in partnership with the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and Autistica. It specifically sought innovations to help with early identification and diagnosis and equal access to effective support and care.

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.

The competition was open to single companies or organisations from the private, public, and third sectors, including large corporates, small and medium enterprises, charities, universities 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:

“Earlier this year our learning disability and autism demand signalling report identified the most important research questions and innovation challenges that need addressing to help deliver for those impacted and we’re delighted to build on that work by investing in the fantastic innovations we are announcing today.

“We have selected these innovations because they have the potential to make a big difference to tackling health inequalities in autism and learning disabilities – and 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 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.”

Dr Amanda Roestorf, Head of Research at Autistica, said:

“Autistica is delighted to be partnering with NHS England and Small Business Research Initiative Healthcare (SBRIH) to solve unmet needs of autistic people and people with learning disabilities. The SBRIH funding pathway will support the research initiatives to bring new technologies to the NHS as a crucial step to enabling autistic and other neurodivergent people to live happier, healthier, longer lives. These projects demonstrate that rapid innovation based on high-quality evidence and collaboration between industry, health and care services, and academic experts, is both possible and necessary to create practical solutions to improve the lives and outcomes of autistic people.”

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.

About SBRI Healthcare

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 the 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.

About the Accelerated Access Collaborative

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.

About The AHSN Network

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.

About Autistica

Autistica is the UK's leading autism research and campaigning charity. Their vision is a world where every autistic person lives a happy, healthy, long life. Autistica provides practical solutions to big problems. From research through to service design and information campaigns, they work in partnership with autistic people, the government, NHS, and others to make change happen.

Autistica has committed to creating a more enabling world by 2030. Through their 2030 Goals they will create effective health and social care, meaningful employment, accessible public spaces, and inclusive attitudes. Autistica’s goals are:

By 2030 all autistic people will have proven support from day one

By 2030 the employment rate for autistic people will double

By 2030 autistic people will have proven treatments for anxiety

By 2030 public spaces will be more accessible for neurodivergent people

By 2030 every autistic adult will be offered a yearly, tailored health check

By 2030 attitudes to autistic people will change


Approach to a school age child with suspected learning disability, BMJ, 2022, People with a learning disability, autism or both, NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2019, Mental Health Services Monthly Statistics Performance November, Provisional December 2020, NHS Digital, 2020, Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP) - PubMed (


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