Medtech’s answer to the mental health crisis


Karen Livingstone, National Director, SBRI Healthcare is thrilled that more money is being promised to tackle mental health issues with the help of medical technology, and shares some key examples of innovations already making a difference

The NHS has delivered its Long-term plan, offering guidance on how the health service plans to utilise its promised £20.5 billion of government funding. During this crucial ten-year period, the NHS hopes to bring vast improvements to its services, and mental health treatment has rightly been outlined as one of the key target areas for development. The plan includes funding for much needed improvements to mental health crisis services, better access for new parents and greater access to talking therapies – news that will be welcomed by all.

In his recent address at the Autumn budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond confessed that he believes mental health has for too long been neglected in the context of previous healthcare funding policies, and has recognised this as an area of growing concern for the UK healthcare system. It is not only the UK that is experiencing the mental health epidemic, with an estimated one billion people worldwide suffering with a mental, neurodevelopment or substance use disorder. This is the equivalent to a staggering 15 to 20 per cent of the entire world population; however, with many cases going unreported, the true proportion of people suffering from mental health problems is likely to be even greater. The main cause for concern here is that these figures are only continuing to grow: in the UK alone, the Mental Health Foundation predicts that by 2030 there will be over two million people suffering from mental health problems. 

Backed heavily by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, medical innovations and technologies are improving the way clinicians are able to treat their patients.

It feels counterintuitive to match a very human challenge with technology but, we are noticing that there is a growing pool of medtech inventions developed with the sole purpose of meeting the challenges posed by the burgeoning number of mental health patients.

A number of these products are already in use within the NHS and have brought a variety of benefits to patients throughout the country. SBRI Healthcare, the NHS innovation funding and development programme, is one of the main driving forces behind the revolutionary treatments receiving traction.

Funded by NHS England, SBRI Healthcare runs a series of national competitions in partnership with the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) to identify the most innovative and effective solutions to critical health challenges within the NHS. Winning applicants receive investment and consultancy services from SBRI Healthcare enabling their inventions to be developed, honed and brought to market for use in the NHS and abroad, often securing additional funding from external sources along the way.

In 2014, the SBRI Healthcare competition called for technology solutions in the treatment of mental health and uncovered several ground-breaking ideas in this field. These innovations offer novel and effective methods of utilising technology such as apps and virtual reality, to bring real benefits to those effected by mental health disorders. Some examples of products identified as part of this competition that are either already available on the NHS or will be very soon are detailed below.


Prism is a digital platform developed and managed by healthcare technology company Mayden that provides a secure hub through which therapists can refer patients for online psychological treatments. Having worked with the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, Mayden recognised the growing demand for an innovative easy-access treatment to overcome therapists’ limited resources. This platform allows both therapists and patients to monitor their progress and outcomes directly within the patient record, without creating further administrative work. In 2016, Mayden partnered with a number of digital therapy providers such as Silvercloud, Minddistrict, ieso and Big White Wall, offering safe, anonymous online support available 24/7, meaning that Prism was now available within the NHS. Around 33,000 patients across 46 NHS Trusts are now benefiting from access to Prism every year.

Pro Real

Pro Real is an immersive, avatar-based, virtual world software platform that provides patients with a safe, secure and confidential way to describe how they experience the world. Users can draw on the value of the VR environment to label strong feelings and name issues, as well as articulate hopes and concerns, all of which help to build resilience and support recovery. Independent research has shown that the software encourages emotional and cognitive responses, and reduces psychological distress. Since being successful in the 2014 SBRI Healthcare competition, the company has received nearly £1.1m in funding from the programme. As well as being used byfive NHS Foundation Trusts, ProReal is also find applications in social care settings, such as a youth counselling charity and providers of probation/rehabilitation services, as well as within several large corporate organisations.


IXICO, in collaboration with the South London Health Innovation Network, has developed MyBrainBook (MBB), a tool for supporting patients’ post-diagnosis of dementia. MBB captures a profile of the patient and guides them through building a personalised care plan with the support of a facilitator. This device allows patients to store information about themselves – who they are, friends and family, interests, likes and dislikes, and how they wish to be supported. This data can then be shared with friends and family, healthcare practitioners or social workers to help improve the quality of life for those living with dementia, and can smooth transition to other care settings. In March 2013, IXICO was awarded a grant from SBRI Healthcare to fund the development of a prototype, and was launched onto the market later in 2015.

These three medtech innovations represent a mere fraction of the possibilities and opportunities that technology can offer in developing unique treatments and bringing real benefits to patients. It is therefore vital that innovators are able to receive the necessary support and funding to get their ideas off the ground. With the promise of greater government funding for mental health services, the hope amongst patients and professionals is that more and more pioneering solutions like these will find their way into NHS hospitals.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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