News in Brief: rapid sensors detect wound infections in Scotland, 1,000 mums register for digital maternity service, HDR UK announces Global Research Director

Welcome to our latest news in brief, where we round-up some of the most interesting news stories impacting the health tech sector at the moment.

It’s set to be a busy few days, as our HTN Now September 2021 event, which takes place over four days from 20 to 23 September, will feature a host of professionals and experts from the sector. You can register to enjoy the content and view the live webinars, here.

In the meantime, find out more about what’s going on in the world of health tech, digital and data…

HDR UK appoints Global Research Director

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) has appointed a new Global Research Director. Trudie Lang, Professor of Global Health Research at the University of Oxford and Head of The Global Health Network, will take the position and will be responsible for leading a new programme that aims to improve health data science practices globally, building on learnings acquired from HDR UK and the International COVID-19 Data Alliance (ICODA).

According to HDR UK, Professor Lang has over 20 years of experience in ‘building research capacity and capability globally’, running clinical trials, and working across academia, the pharmaceutical industry and for the World Health Organisation.

She will start the role on 1 September 2021 on a part-time basis, join the Executive Committee at HDR UK, and will retain her role leading The Global Health Network.

Professor Lang, Research Director at Health Data Research (HDR) Global, said: “COVID-19 has demonstrated the substantial health inequalities that continue to exist across the world. It has also demonstrated the incredible opportunity for health data science to contribute to addressing these inequalities. I am looking forward to working with the team at HDR UK and ICODA in this exciting new role.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Director at Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), added: “The UK has been at the forefront of the scientific response to COVID-19, with the secure use of large-scale datasets a core component to enable the discoveries that have led to effective treatments and vaccines.

“The next stage of our development as a global health community must be to scale this for all conditions – building expertise to securely share, link, access and analyse data sets across countries that will improve healthcare worldwide. Trudie Lang brings the leadership skills and immense global health expertise to drive the HDR Global initiative.”

Launch of long-term conditions app with multiple languages

Unity, an app by the mobile health provider Health Fabric, is being launched to help patients manage their long-term conditions through care plans that can be accessed on their phone.

The app provides NHS and approved supplier care plans and will be licensed by participating GP practices, who will be able to offer the system to patients so they can be more proactive in their care. It will cover conditions such as high blood pressure, COPD, asthma, diabetes, hypertension, angina and depression. Care plans can also be tailored for those with multiple conditions.

The app is available in 15 languages, including: Bengali, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Turkish and Ukrainian.

Developed with Crown Medical Practice in Tamworth, Unity utilises the latest technologies, such as artificial intelligence, and patients can use it to input readings such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels, asthma peak flow figures, and oxygen saturation levels. Patients are also asked questions on how well they are managing their symptoms and can record their mood by using emoticons.

Through AI and machine learning, the app also recognises what the baseline of symptoms are for each patient and can help spot anomalies, with alerts sent to GPs.

Dr Paul Joshi, a GP at Crown Medical Practice, commented: “I think Unity will be extremely useful to patients who want to be more proactive in the way they manage their health.

“The more conditions someone has, the more complicated their care is, but if they can follow a care plan on their phone, they can see what they need to do, and when they record symptoms, their GP can see how they’re getting on.

“Throughout COVID, we’ve seen that a lot of people who don’t speak English very well have had disproportionately more health problems. They might have been getting information from unreliable sources when they’ve not been able to engage with their GP. With Unity being available in many different languages, it should be easier for them to understand how they can manage their care.”

Rapid wound infection tech studied in Scotland

The University of Strathclyde and NHS Ayrshire & Arran have carried out a study using low-cost screen-printed carbon sensors to rapidly detect bacteria that is commonly found in wounds. UK Research and Innovation says that the ‘sensitive portable electrochemical sensors’ detected infections in clinical samples within half an hour, which is said to be much quicker than current hospital laboratory testing.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Doctoral Training in Medical Devices and Health Technologies, the study involved collaboration with NHS Ayrshire & Arran clinicians, as patient dressings and swabs were collected from those with diabetes-related foot ulcers at University Hospital Ayr. The samples were then measured at the University using the novel sensor.

According to one research study, 1 per cent of patients develop HAIs [Healthcare Associated Infections], which costs NHS Scotland more than £46 million annually. It’s hoped that this technology could be used for ‘a cost-effective, real-time wound monitoring device’ that is able to ‘rapidly detect infection’ and ‘greatly reduce wound infection detection and identification times in clinical settings’.

Aiden Hannah, a biomedical engineering researcher from the University of Strathclyde, said: “The ability of our low-cost sensors to rapidly detect the presence of infection in clinical wound samples highlights their potential for adoption into point-of-care infection monitoring devices. The ability to monitor infection status in real time, would enable earlier intervention and improved prognosis.”

Professor Andrew Collier, Consultant Diabetologist for NHS Ayrshire & Arran, added: “The early detection of infection demonstrated in this study will have significant impact upon both the individual with a diabetes foot ulcer and NHS resources.”

ERSC to invest £90 million in Administrative Data Research UK

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is set to invest over £90 million in Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK).

The aim of the investment is to ensure ‘policy-relevant data linking and research projects across the UK can continue’. The funding extension will allow the work to continue for a further five years and make sure that there is no loss of skills, infrastructure or momentum, according to UKRI.

ADR UK provides accredited researchers with access to de-identified data from government departments, local authorities and health authorities, with the overall aim to enable better-informed policy decisions.

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said of the news: “Administrative data is an under-explored but information-rich resource. The wealth of data available from government departments and public services has the potential to create important knowledge and insight, as well as to provide a comprehensive picture of UK society and point to areas where change is needed.

“ADR UK plays a pivotal role making this data accessible to researchers in a safe way. This continued investment ensures policymaking underpinned by data-driven evidence can make a positive difference to our society and improve people’s lives.

“Research projects funded by ADR UK have already made significant contributions during the COVID-19 response by enabling local authorities to harness crucial data to support their decision-making and help them understand better the spread and impacts of the pandemic in their communities.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway commented: “As we build back better from the pandemic, it’s vital that we support UK scientists and researchers in unlocking the wealth of public sector data which can provide crucial insights into how we improve every aspect of our society, from healthcare to education.

“That’s why today we’re committing a further £90 million of government funding to Administrative Data Research UK, allowing our best and brightest to continue their work in transforming our lives for the better.”

1,000 mums register for digital maternity service at UHNM

Over 1,000 mums have signed up to use the ‘My Pregnancy Notes’ digital maternity notes system at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM). The web-based system is being used as a personal health record and midwives across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have been trained to use it.

Around 1,425 newly expectant mothers have registered since the launch of the system in July and patients who have already begun their care are also still able to switch to the digital service.

Lynn Dudley, Interim Head of Midwifery at UHNM, said: “This is a fantastic addition to the maternity services already available. The ability to self-refer means that our midwives have all the newly expectant women’s details before their first appointment, ensuring we can meet their needs from the very start.

“It saves crucial time for our staff and patients and is also a more secure and confidential system than using traditional paper notes. We are excited about what a positive difference this is making to our patients.”

Heather Johnstone, Midwife and Senior Responsible Officer for the ‘Together We’re Better’ maternity transformation programme, said: “This is all about giving mums more control and support over their care when they give birth and before and after their baby is born. People can access their My Pregnancy Notes records on any computer, tablet or smartphone using a secure browser. Partners, other family members and some health professionals can also be granted access to view the notes.”

Advisory board announced for the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s (CDEI), which aims to connect policymakers, industry, civil society, and the public on a governance regime for data-driven technologies, has announced the members of its advisory board.

Edwina Dunn, the Interim Chair of the board, will continue in her role, which she has held since November 2020.

In addition to Edwina Dunn, the advisory board includes:

  • Dr Rumman Chowdhury, the Director of the META (Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability) team at Twitter, and General Partner of the venture capital fund Parity Responsible Innovation Fund, which invests in early-stage responsible technology start-ups;
  • Jack Clark, Co-Founder of Anthropic, an AI safety and research company, and Co-Chair of the AI Index at Stanford University, an expert member on behalf of the US at the Global Partnership on AI, and Co-Chair of the OECD working group on the classification and definition of AI systems.
  • Eddie Copeland, Director of the London Office of Technology and Innovation, and a member of the Smart London Board, which advises the Mayor of London on digital technology and data.
  • Martin Hosken, VMware’s Chief Technologist for Cloud Services.
  • Jessica Lennard, Senior Director in Visa’s Global Strategic Initiatives team, leading on Data and Artificial Intelligence. She also sits on the Board of techUK, is a member of the Financial Conduct Authority/Bank of England Public-Private AI Forum, and is an Ambassador for Microsoft’s National Council for Artificial Intelligence (North America).
  • Dr Marion Oswald, a legal academic at Northumbria Law School, a Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into technologies and the application of law, PI and Director of the AHRC-funded “Observatory for the Monitoring of Data-Driven Approaches to Covid-19”, and Chair of the West Midlands Police & Crime Commissioner and West Midlands Police Data Ethics Committee, among other roles.
  • James Plunkett, Executive Director who leads on digital technology, data science, and public policy, at Citizens Advice. He previously worked at Downing Street in the Cabinet Office.
  • Baroness Kate Rock has been a member of the CDEI’s advisory board since November 2018, and is also a Conservative Peer in the House of Lords, a member of the Select Committee on AI and a founding Ambassador of “Women Supporting Women” at The Prince’s Trust.
  • Richard Sargeant has been a member of the CDEI’s advisory board since November 2018, and is also the Chief Commercial Officer at the AI firm Faculty.
  • Dr Adrian Weller, has also been a member of the CDEI’s advisory board since November 2018. He is Programme Director for AI at The Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and AI, as well as a Senior Research Fellow in Machine Learning at the University of Cambridge, and at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.
  • Dr Mimi Zou co-founded the Deep Tech Dispute Resolution Lab at the University of Oxford and advises international organisations, governments, businesses, nonprofits and think tanks on law and technology issues.