News, News in Brief

News in Brief: NHSX backs digital back pain pathway, home test for breast cancer patients, mental health videos

This week we’ve covered a range of health tech news, including nine projects being announced to support analytics research into COVID-19, a new tender put out for work on Equality Impact Assessments in innovation, and the publication of the first research paper to use data from the Greater Manchester Care Record.

We also shared the experiences of health and tech professionals from industry and the NHS, as part of our live HTN Now November sessions, which you can begin to catch up on as the videos and write ups are released. Ideal Health’s webcast on change management within digital training, and Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust’s session on digital clinical leadership, are both already live for you to view.

But what about all the rest of the news? Our weekly round-up of the headlines this week includes how the brightest ever X-ray can help capture COVID-19 damage, a trust’s hopes for AI mechanical ventilation, a new digital NHS pathway for pain management, mental health videos, developments in home blood tests for breast cancer patients, and more…

Boost for breast cancer home blood testing

A home test for breast cancer patients, which is being developed by health giants Pfizer and virtual oncology innovators Entia, is ‘nearing its final stages’. The two companies have partnered to work on a device and platform that will allow patients to test their blood, and then share their results with clinicians, all from home.

The remote innovation, which received funding from the Digital Health Technology Catalyst, part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is now in late-stage development with regulatory approvals ‘expected for the UK and EU in early 2022’.

Europe’s largest single-site cancer centre, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, has been helping to trial the solution, which includes individualised training for patients. It’s hoped that the test will reduce unnecessary visits for patients, release capacity in healthcare, allow any changes to be detected earlier, and improve cancer care.

Dr Toby Basey-Fisher, Entia’s founder and CEO, said: “We founded Entia with the belief that we could improve the lives of people during cancer treatment. We knew that by combining virtual services with our blood monitoring technology we could truly transform the way cancer care is delivered in a reliable way.

“Pfizer recognise the incredible journey we are on and how combining our approach with treatments provides patients with the freedom to live their life how they choose. Importantly, our approach also aims to free up capacity and streamline clinical services by integrating with existing practice.”

Erling Donnelly, Pfizer UK Oncology Lead, added: “Living with cancer is hard enough for people and so it’s important that we try to relieve the burden of treatment monitoring, as well as helping our already stretched healthcare services. We’re excited to partner with Entia to do this for people living with metastatic breast cancer.”

NHSX to support digital pathway for back pain

NHSX’s Adoption Fund is set to support a new digital pathway for lower back pain management and support, through use of an app called ‘SelfBack’.

Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (MPFT) is part of the collaborative project, which will use the STarT Back screening tool in GP systems to ‘digitise and maximise the uptake of a cost effective, evidence based approach for patients with low back pain at the first contact’.

Professor Kay Stevenson, MPFT’s Consultant Physiotherapist and regional Allied Health Professional Musculoskeletal Lead for NHS England and NHS Improvement, who is also Senior Knowledge Mobilisation Fellow and Honorary Professor in Musculoskeletal Care and Leadership at Keele University’s Impact Accelerator Unit, will manage the project.

Kay said of the news: “I’m delighted to be leading this collaborative project. We have been successful in gaining funding from NHSX to look at how we support people with back pain.

“Our plan is to provide a link to an app, called SelfBack, that will encourage activity and measure how people are progressing. This work is based on research that has been undertaken at Keele and Glasgow Universities. The work of the Keele team (STarT Back) will assist assessment of patients in primary care and link to the SelfBack app.”

The team will be working on the project with Keele University, Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, University Hospital of Derby and Burton NHS Trust, Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Glasgow and the University Hospital of North Midlands NHS Trust.

Oxford NHS releases mental health videos

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has released a series of mental health videos for patients, to help build understanding and awareness.

The trust has created a range of resources on conditions and topics such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, self-harm, personality disorders, neurodiversity, suicide prevention, good mental health, digital mental health, anti-depressants and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The latest video to launch focuses on an anti-depressant medication called Fluoxetine (Prozac), explaining why it is prescribed and answering commonly asked questions for patients and families.

The videos have been co-created by the trust’s music therapy lead, Stuart Hobbs, clinical psychologist Hannah Stratford, and trust consultant Tony James, along with some of the young people who have used Oxford Health’s adolescent mental health services and partners at Oxford University.

Stuart Hobbs explained: “Mental health seems a big subject and for many people taking that first step to understanding some of the issues and words is tough. What we’ve tried to do is create videos that break things down so that it’s easy for viewers to get into the issue and, we hope, are reassured the more that they watch.

“The videos have been well received with over 100,000 views and the comments on YouTube have been really good. It’s great to get good feedback but the main thing is that we are helping people and putting up to date reliable information out there.

“They are being used internally by the trust to raise awareness amongst staff, particularly those new to the organisation, and also provided to patients and families.”

Find the videos to view, here.

‘Brightest ever X-ray’ shows how lungs are altered by COVID-19

Scientists from University College London (UCL) and the European Synchrotron Research Facility (ESRF) have used a new imaging technology – Hierarchical Phase-Contrast Tomography (HiP-CT) – to look at donated organs, including lungs from a patient who had COVID-19.

Using 3D mapping across a range of scales, UCL says that clinicians can view the whole organ ‘as never before’ by ‘imaging it as a whole’ and then ‘zooming down’ to cellular level.

The technique uses X-rays from the European Synchrotron (a particle accelerator) which, following an upgrade, is said to provide ‘the brightest source of X-rays in the world’ – 100 billion times brighter than a hospital X-ray.

This means researchers can ‘view blood vessels five microns in diameter (a tenth of the diameter of a hair) in an intact human lung’, with the UCL and ESRF research team using the technology to look at how severe COVID infection ‘shunts’ the capillaries that oxygenate blood and feed lungs.

Danny Jonigk, Professor of Thoracic Pathology at Hannover Medical School, Germany, said: “By combining our molecular methods with the HiP-CT multiscale imaging in lungs affected by COVID-19 pneumonia, we gained a new understanding how shunting between blood vessels in a lung’s two vascular systems occurs in COVID-19 injured lungs, and the impact it has on oxygen levels in our circulatory system.”

It’s hoped the method could also one day provide insights into other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Dr Claire Walsh, from UCL Mechanical Engineering, commented: “The ability to see organs across scales like this will really be revolutionary for medical imaging. As we start to link our HiP-CT images to clinical images through AI techniques, we will – for the first time – be able to highly accurately validate ambiguous findings in clinical images.”

Hopes that AI could help with mechanical ventilation

Clinicians from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust have been working with researchers from King’s College London (KCL) to review studies on on artificial intelligence (AI) and mechanical ventilation. They found that a number of projects were looking at early testing of technologies, with some even approaching readiness for clinical trials.

It’s hoped that AI could one day be used to help guide clinicians on when to use mechanical ventilation, when to take people off it, and the likelihood of complications for patients. As results and reactions can ‘vary greatly’ for patients on this type of ventilation, it is thought AI could ‘personalise approaches’ based on calculations of an individual’s characteristics.

Overall, the researchers found 1,342 papers papers on the topic and 95 that were ‘particularly relevant’, and made recommendations on how to improve work in the field, including improving the availability of data and better reporting of characteristics like ethnicity and gender.

Dr Jack Gallifant of the Centre for Human and Applied Physiological Sciences at King’s College London, said: “Artificial intelligence has the potential to improve the management of mechanical ventilation therapy. Our review highlights a need for greater code and data availability, and thorough validation that, combined with smaller bias, will facilitate translation of data science into improved patient care.”

Yorkshire pathology service plans CliniSys LIMS and ICE deployments 

Scarborough Hull York Pathology Service is planning to deploy a ‘single laboratory information management system’ to link up its laboratories.

The service, one of 29 pathology networks being set up through a national programme, signed a deal with CliniSys for its WinPath Enterprise LIMS this spring. Since then, it has been planning for a ‘big-bang’ go-live across labs in Hull, York and Scarborough.

Due to the distance that samples would have to travel over roads that can suffer from bad weather and holiday traffic, the service will operate a ‘distributed’ model where specialist tests are conducted in Hull and York, while all labs will carry out ‘high-volume, routine work’ and support each other in times of pressure.

WinPath Enterprise will support this by allowing test results to be shared across the network and generating data to analyse workflows. A linked project means GPs in the area will use the CliniSys Integrated Clinical Environment (ICE) to order tests. The service hopes to go-live next year.

Programme director Dave Oglesby said: “Hull and York are 40 miles apart, and we have been building a collaborative relationship for the past five years. That gained impetus with the decision to create a pathology network and to move forward with a single LIMS.”

“The operating model of Scarborough Hull York Pathology Service is built around harmonising working practices, and we will be using the new LIMS to standardise ways of working. We want to go-live in all sites and all specialities at the same time, so clinicians and patients see the benefits as soon as possible.

“What we are focusing on is the creation of a single pathology network serving four laboratory sites; and not a federation of laboratories. That is the model that we believe works best for our locality and Integrated Care System partners.

“Our vision is for every patient in our catchment area to have the same route to access tests and a single pathology record, using ICE and the LIMS. That will mean that a clinician in Hull or York will be able to see the results of a patient referred from hospital in Scarborough or a GP in Bridlington without those tests having to be conducted again.”

Patients with dementia to receive support from ‘memory machines’

Patients with dementia at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust will benefit from new machines that help with memory recall and sharing.

The Health Tree Foundation, which is the trust’s official charity, has funded seven Reminiscence Interactive Therapy Activities (RITA) machines for Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals.

These machines help patients with dementia, particularly those with memory impairments, by encouraging them to recall and share events from their past. This is achieved through listening to music and speeches, watching news reports and films, playing games, browsing the internet, viewing old maps and photographs, and making video calls.

Kate Scott, Clinical Nurse Specialist for Dementia at Scunthorpe, said: “The RITA machines help to provide therapeutic interaction for patients and helps them to engage with something which is meaningful to them supporting a person-centred approach. As a trust, we strive to be dementia-friendly. The system will also help other vulnerable patients within our hospital too.”

This now means that the trust has nine RITA machines at the Grimsby hospital site, seven at Scunthorpe and one in Goole’s hospital, with plans to buy more in the future and hopes to eventually fund one for each ward.