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NHS Innovation Accelerator backs autism support system

A digital self-management system for autistic people and those with other neurological differences has been selected to join the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA).

The system, Brain in Hand, also supports people with learning disabilities and mental health challenges to help manage their anxiety, make decisions and cope with unexpected events.

The NIA is an award-winning NHS England initiative to spread and scale up high-impact, evidence-based innovations across the NHS and wider healthcare systems.

It uses a robust process to select an innovation and an associated Fellow, in this case Brain in Hand Director of Strategic Partnerships Heather Cook, who has strong links with the North West Coast.

Heather is one of 12 new Innovation Fellows with the NIA who will be supported over the next three years to spread their products across England for the benefit of NHS patients and staff.

Stockport-based Heather started working in collaboration with the Innovation Agency when Brain in Hand was a fledgling company, receiving signposting and commercial support to help the organisation gain a foothold in the health and care system.

The Innovation Agency has since advised the company on accessing grant funding, and in November 2020 it was awarded £800,000 by the Small Business Research Initiative Healthcare fund, an NHS England and NHS Improvement initiative to promote economic growth and deliver healthcare benefits.

Brain in Hand combines human support and digital tools, enabling its users to become more independent and so reduce costs for organisations providing support.

The system is being used in more than 60 projects in local authority and health teams around the country, including the North West Coast where it has been adopted by Liverpool City Council, Knowsley Borough Council and Warrington Borough Council.

Brain in Hand projects are typically situated in local authority transition teams or adult social care. The system is also approved by the Department for Education as a tool for supporting students in higher education and is available at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Heather, who is honorary lecturer in digital health at UCLan, said: “The Innovation Agency has been with us right from the start of our journey seven years ago, acting as a critical friend and giving us the exposure we needed to get off the ground.

“As far as the NIA fellowship is concerned, the Innovation Agency team encouraged us to apply, reviewed our application, and has helped us think about alignment with the NHS Long Term Plan and the needs of the health and care system during COVID-19. I knew that if I got stuck with something I could pick up the phone and ask the Innovation Agency for help.

“The NIA’s theme this year is heath inequalities and we were selected due to the potential for Brain in Hand to help level the playing field. People living with neurological difference are at a disadvantage so we’re really pleased the NIA felt Brain in Hand could help reduce the gap by supporting people take more control of their lives and build independence.”

The NIA selection process involves a college of expert clinicians, patients and commercial leads drawn from a range of organisations including NHS England and NHS Improvement, NHSX, the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and NICE.

The NIA is delivered in partnership with England’s 15 AHSNs, including the Innovation Agency. Since it launched in 2015, the NIA has supported the uptake and spread of 74 evidence-based innovations across more than 2,400 NHS sites.

Lorna Green, Innovation Agency Director of Enterprise and Growth, said: “We’ve had a very fruitful relationship with Brain in Hand and the NIA decision is a tribute to a hard-working and very innovative organisation that has had a big impact on patient care. We’re looking forward to helping them go from strength to strength.”

Thomas, a user from the Liverpool City Region, has used Brain in Hand to help solve problems, organise his time and live independently, and says that having access to digital support has helped with his anxieties and mental health. You can read his and other users’ stories here:

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