Barry Singleton, Chief Relationship Officer, reflects on the Behavioural AI company’s experience amongst the first “Propel YH” cohort, an accelerator designed and delivered by the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Science Network (YHAHS).
Propel YH is a six-month digital health accelerator programme targeted at SMEs innovating in digital health in the Yorkshire and Humber region.
The move towards personalised healthcare and the use of AI is part of the UK Government’s foresight planning on health and wellbeing.
“All around us, a new generation of technology is changing our lives, from the everyday use of satnavs and smartphones through to the profound ability of genomics to help us develop personalised medicines for individuals” (UK Government, 2018).
To achieve this, there is a growing focus on the use of “more data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to help diagnose diseases or conditions and to gain better insights into treatments and preventions that could benefit all of society” (UK Government, 2018).
UK Government Health Secretary, Matt Hancock recently said: “Artificial intelligence will play a crucial role in the future of the NHS – and we need to embrace it by introducing systems which can speed up diagnoses, improve patient outcomes, make every pound go further and give clinicians more time with their patients” (Hancock, UK Government, 2018).
Scaled Insights is an AI start-up located at Nexus, the University of Leeds’ innovation hub that was built to bridge the gap between Academia and Industry. Conceived in Canada, but very much born and evolving in the Leeds City Region, Scaled Insights is developing custom AI tools that seek to better understand human behaviour in financial services, health & social care, and education.
The NHS is a complex beast and is a jewel in the crown of our society, and a source of both immense pride, and terrible frustration in not entirely equal measures. We all interact with the NHS at various stages of our lives, some of us more than others, and it’s both revered for its ubiquity and criticised for its inefficiencies and inequalities. It’s often said that understanding the NHS is a little bit like peeling an onion. Once you manage to understand one aspect of what is, in essence, a vast, disparate and confusing agglomeration of inter-related organisations, an assemblage of standards, processes and quasi-governmental arms-length bodies, your work is far from done.
With that in mind, only the brave should embrace the many challenges of developing solutions for the NHS. The people behind Scaled Insights are intrepid entrepreneurs with a firm belief that our technology will make a significant difference and positive impact on patients, staff, and the wider system.
Approximately 30 years ago, my Mum presented to her GP with tinnitus, loss of hearing and challenges with her balance. Her GP wrote on her notes, “There is nothing wrong with this woman.” On seeking a second opinion, Mum was referred to have an MRI scan to ensure that her GP’s assumptions were proved correct. It was then discovered that she had a rare form of brain tumour, Acoustic Neuroma (or Vestibular Schwannoma) and required surgery; 10 hours of invasive surgery, to be precise. We continue to support BANA (British Acoustic Neuroma Association https://www.bana-uk.com), whose vision is a world in which Acoustic Neuroma is no longer a life-changing experience.
30 years on, and thanks to research, development and innovation funded by organisations like the NIHR, the MRC and the Academic Health Science Network, the treatment paths for patients with acoustic neuroma have increased in scope, and perhaps Mum could have avoided 10 hours invasive surgery that dramatically altered her life’s trajectory. Back then, mental health wasn’t as openly discussed, and Mum and Dad weren’t warned of the likely impact on Mum’s health, physical, mental or her general wellbeing.
Presently, my father is undergoing a series of tests that will determine his treatment path following the removal of some melanoma from his right ear. The surgery was successful to some extent, however his next steps are to undergo extensive treatment to remove his lymph glands. His experiences of interacting with the amazing staff at the NHS are heart-warming. Some of the archaic systems and processes they’re required to follow, however, leave the mind boggled, the blood icy cold and him somewhat frustrated.
Propel YH - Application & Selection
The process of applying for Propel YH commenced in January 2019. A relatively light touch application form, particularly in comparison with, as I have discovered, applications for other UK funding bodies and academic collaborations, accompanied by a 3-minute piece-to-camera video describing the solution or product and its potential applications within the NHS. Passing this first hurdle was a pleasant surprise, and the ensuing series of 10, 5 and 1-minute pitches to respected health and social care professionals caused only a minor amount of hair loss for the author.
Before Propel, I had no idea what an RCT (Random Control Trial) was, nor how an ICS (Integrated Care System) worked, and what impact an AHSN (Academic Health Science Network) could have on your MO (Modus Operandi, not an NHS Acronym!) for engaging with the NHS.
NICE guidelines are essential, GDPR equally so. NHSx? A vehicle designed to fast track the implementation of AI into the NHS, at scale, backed by evidence. But don’t ignore IG (Information Governance), particularly if your aspirations require involvement with, and the approval of, PPI (not that kind of PPI, we’re talking Personal and Public Involvement, not the PPI you may, or may not, have claimed back lately).
Confused by acronyms? I was too, and whilst I’d be stretching the truth if I claimed to fully understand them all, I now feel armed with an upgrade to my knowledge of how the NHS works, and what is required in order to gain interest and create traction within our health system.
Progress So Far
How has Propel YH helped to propel Scaled Insights with our ambitions to apply our technology to supporting health and social care professionals to improve patient outcomes and meet the health and social care system’s unmet needs?
Dare I say we’ve been propelled towards clinicians, academics and a wide variety of stakeholders who are committed to augmenting the way health and social care is delivered to patients. These folks wear many hats, and work long hours, but they share one common goal – to care for patients and improve lives.
The YHAHSN has been a tremendous source of support, information, signposting and, I’m delighted to say, an invaluable asset to our company as we strive to navigate our way through the system. Additionally, the masterclasses from people like Stuart Harrison, a clinical safety expert, and Dr Aislinn Bergin from the Mindtech (Mental Health Medical In Vitro Cooperative) in Nottingham proved to be vital sources of information.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust’s Research & Innovation Centre, and in particular Dr Chris Herbert & Dr Richard Evans, have helped us to understand the data sharing, data and information governance and research protocols that our data scientists must adhere to.
Without people like Richard Stubbs, Dr Neville Young, Jon Fordham, Helen Hoyland, Sean Clarkson, Tony Jamieson, Professor Wendy Tindale, Aislinn Bergin, William Pope, Jen Martin and Lucie Osbourne, to name just a few of the folks that have escorted us on our journey so far, our aspirations to contribute to developing personalised, preventative and predictive tools for the health & social care system could easily be despatched to a virtual NHS owned Room 101 for good ideas.
It feels ever so slightly wrong to single out individuals in what is the ultimate team game, however I want to give special thanks to Lucie Osbourne. An AHP (Allied Health Professional, just in case that acronym requires explanation) with a strong clinical background as a radiographer, Lucie has helped me professionally and personally as a sounding board since my Dad received his diagnosis. Lucie and her colleagues at the YHAHSN are the glue that holds together the intentions of entrepreneurs like us, the people with the innovative ideas and solutions and who believe we can make a meaningful difference. I know this could be a source of embarrassment to her, but her ongoing support has been priceless, truly.
As I reflect from our office on campus at the University of Leeds, my mind recalls many of the introductions, warm and heart felt, that the above people have kindly made. Without people like Dr Neville Young, and the support of the YHAHSN, I’m not sure how likely it’d be that Scaled Insights would be in a position to be analysing data, and working towards addressing an unmet need - Medicines Adherence and Optimisation - collaboratively with two of the leading NHS Teaching Hospital Trusts in England.
A serendipitous meeting with Dr Ryan Mathew, Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon at the University of Leeds and Leeds General Infirmary, at the launch of the Centre for Immersive Technology at Nexus, will hopefully result in an exciting collaboration on the early detection of brain tumour. Personally, and professionally, this opportunity is incredibly close to my heart and I hope we can leave a legacy together to help improve patient outcomes in this field of research. Together, we’re exploring funding to commence a project that will benefit patients, clinicians, the system and, without wishing to labour the point too much, society.
Propelling Towards Success
With huge thanks to Propel YH, mHabitat, CoSpaceNorth, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, the University of Leeds, Nexus Leeds, Scaled Insights is exploring the application of its technology to improve the way that healthcare treatment paths can be personalised, based on patient’s attitudes, behaviours and needs, and ongoing projects in health & social care include:
- Adherence to medicines – Cardiovascular
- Early detection of brain tumour
- Personalised and Adaptive Learning for Health & Social Care Professionals with Health Education England & University of Leeds
- Weight loss management – predicting patient engagement and improving patient group stratification