Funding competition Using digital technology to support psychological therapies (SBRI competition)

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £345,000 (including VAT) to develop new solutions using digital technology to provide psychological support.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by NHS Scotland. Successful applicants will receive 100% funding and have access to advice from NHS Grampian.

The aim is to increase availability of psychological care at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital for children and young people (CYP) with significant gastrointestinal symptoms but no underlying medical disease. Where there are no biomedical solutions, digital psychological support allows CYP and their families to self-manage symptoms and live a fuller life.

Your proposed solution must adjust to individual needs in ways that are engaging and effective.

This is phase 1 of a potential 2-phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1. Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2.

Funding type


Project size

We expect phase 1 projects to range in size and to be in the region of up to £10,000, including VAT. Projects must start by 21 October 2020 and last up to 3 months.

Who can apply

To lead a project, you can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with others from business, the research base or the third sector as subcontractors

In phase 1, you must:

  • demonstrate the technical feasibility of your proposed innovation
  • establish ongoing collaboration between technical and clinical members of the project team
  • formalise any required ethical approvals, data sharing agreements and contracts
  • submit an outline plan for phase 2

We would welcome bids that bring together a consortium of sector specialists.

We are looking for industrial innovators. You must be able to work with clinical experts to develop a clinically relevant and commercially practicable solution.

Only applicants who complete phase 1 can apply for funding for phase 2.

In phase 2 you must:

  • develop and evaluate a prototype of your solution
  • test the prototype on real-world data and systems within NHS Grampian to establish clinical utility
  • develop a plan for full commercial exploitation


Up to £345,000, including VAT, is allocated across the 2 phases.

The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • adjust the provisional funding allocations between the phases
  • apply a ‘portfolio’ approach

Your project must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for R&D services. R&D can cover solution exploration and design. It can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service.

R&D does not include:

  • commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Phase 1 funding

The feasibility study R&D contracts will be in the region of up to £10,000, including VAT. This is for each project for up to 3 months. We expect to fund up to 5 projects. The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation.

Phase 2 funding

Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2.

Up to £147,500, including VAT, will be allocated for each contract in phase 2, in order to develop a prototype and undertake field testing in NHS Grampian for up to 15 months. We expect to fund up to 2 projects.

Your proposal

There is potential to commercialise outputs directly through NHS Scotland. We have access to relevant test-beds across Scotland.

Any adoption and implementation of a solution from this SBRI competition would be subject to a separate, possibly competitive, procurement exercise. This competition covers R&D, not the purchase of any solution.

We are looking for proposals that:

  • are interactive and engaging, and can be tailored to individual needs within general themes
  • embed sound psychological approaches to improve symptom management and wellbeing
  • will disrupt current clinical pathways in NHS Grampian and beyond, and transform clinical care to this population
  • use relevant NHS, academic and commercial expertise
  • have clinical and commercial potential locally, nationally and globally
  • are person centred with the potential to co-produce solutions with both clinician and users, including CYP, parents and carers
  • detail creative, contemporary and engaging solutions targeted to CYP and families
  • can deliver an AI-driven psychological therapy service which consists of state-of the-art technology that responds to the specific needs of young people at any given time

Project types

In phase 1 you must work closely with the stakeholders to develop a solution. In phase 2 the outcome of your project will be a prototype of the solution. Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2.

Phase 1: technical feasibility studies

This means planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge and skills for developing new products, processes or services.

Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation

This can include prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validating new or improved products, processes or services in environments representative of real-life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that are too focused on technological issues for which solutions already exist.

20 July 2020
Competition opens
4 August 2020
Online briefing event: watch the recording
9 September 2020 11:00am
Registration closes
16 September 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
14 October 2020
Applicants notified
21 October 2020
Phase 1 contracts awarded

Before you start

To apply:

  • register online using the ’Register and apply online’ button above
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending one of the briefing events listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

A selected panel of experts will assess the quality your application. Please use Microsoft Word for the application form or it will be ineligible.

Background and further information

The challenge

There is an increase in demand for services and a UK wide lack of health care professionals to deliver psychological interventions.

In Scotland, 50% of GP referrals to children’s hospitals concern uncomfortable bodily symptoms without underlying disease. The largest proportion of referrals are to gastroenterology outpatient services. Approximately 4 in every 10 gastroenterology outpatient appointments are concerned with this patient group. Impact includes significant school absence, reduced socialising and engagement in activities, increased anxiety and frustration with ongoing time off work for parents and carers.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) reviewed all research evidence and found computerised cognitive behavioural therapy to be as effective for mild-moderate depression and anxiety as that delivered by a skilled therapist. However, those digital solutions that have been examined in detail are marked by a linear, predetermined presentation of material with little user interaction, high initial uptake (up to 85%) but disappointing completion rates (15 to 20%), and invariably use outdated technology.

Current scenario

Louise is 14 years old and has been experiencing significant abdominal pain for over a year. She often has uncomfortable feelings of nausea, stomach cramps and sometimes diarrhoea. These symptoms can often keep her awake at night and she catches up with her sleep during the day. She frequently thinks she is too sore and too fatigued to go to school. She has become increasingly worried about falling behind and she feels miserable about missing her friends and the things she used to do.

Louise has visited her local paediatric gastroenterologist every few months for about a year. The doctor has done a range of tests, repeated a few of them, and tried a few different medications and exclusion diets. Nothing has helped. Louise and her parents don’t really understand what is happening, are worried it might be something serious, and are becoming increasingly convinced nothing will ever help. A couple of times over the last 2 months Louise has been admitted overnight to a medical ward because she and her family didn’t know what else to do.

Future scenario

Louise is 14 years old and had been experiencing significant abdominal pain for a few months, which she and her family found stressful. She missed the odd day of school here and there because she and her family used to believe that when her symptoms were uncomfortable, she was better to stay at home and rest.

Louise visited her local paediatric gastroenterologist who reassured her there was nothing seriously wrong, did a couple of tests to make sure, and pointed her toward a new AI-driven psychological therapy service for young people like her. This new digital service consisted of a state-of-the-art cognitive agent interface, which responded dynamically to her specific needs. The cognitive agent was supported by a library of resources designed to help her make sense of her experiences and develop the skills to better manage her symptoms and get on with her life.

Louise still has uncomfortable symptoms from time to time but manages these better than previously. She has no more days off school than her peers. Louise and her family aren’t worried there is anything seriously wrong with her and don’t feel the need to return to her local children’s hospital for further appointments.

About SBRI competitions
SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. SBRI supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services. It does this through the public procurement of research and development (R&D). SBRI generates new business opportunities for companies and provides a route to market for their ideas. It also bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies.
Further help and information
You can find information on how to enter this competition in the invitation to tender document, which is available for download on our secure site after registration.
Questions related to this competition should be addressed directly to Hazel Dempsey, Innovation Programme Lead, NHS Grampian:
If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network or Scottish Enterprise.
If you need more information, email or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357.

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