A digital healthcare company has won an NHS grant which will go towards improving the way people with autism are engaged in support services.

Brain in Hand has been given nearly £400,000 as part of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) Healthcare award, which is funded by NHS England and NHS Improvement.

The company has said it will put the money towards developing and testing a new method of reaching young people with autism. It says it will harness technology to ensure that barriers to access are removed, services are more accessible and to provide support and assistance to more autistic people.

By demonstrating the impact of direct marketing and online screening in engaging people in services, it hopes to help considerably reduce the challenges associated with finding support. It also hopes to provide evidence to health and social care services that a more inclusive, accessible approach is an effective and scalable model for engaging autistic people.

Connor Ward, autistic advocate and user experience advisor to Brain in Hand, said: “I cannot emphasis enough how difficult it is to access services if you are on the waiting list or seen as mid- to low-level need. So many autistic people suffer anxiety and stress just to get a clinical diagnosis, then when we do, if our needs are not deemed complex enough, we are essentially abandoned.

“We do not ‘fit’ the criteria for support. The message is we must have a mental health crisis just to get support in place, when all we want is some help to access a world that is not accessible to us.”

According to Brain in Hand, its digital tools and transformational approach to providing access to support could reduce mental health inequalities, improve lives and make health and care services more efficient and cost-effective. It hopes that the funding received will help them to achieve this by sharing their work nationally.

Dr Louise Morpeth, CEO of Brain in Hand, explained: “We want to provide support designed around each user’s needs, accessible when needed and available 24/7.

“This third award, bringing a total of £1.2M GBP in NHS awards, will allow us to make significant inroads on fulfilling that ambition.”

The company is working with a number of partners to reach out to the neurodivergent community directly. These include Surrey County Council, Cheshire West and Chester Council, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Derbyshire County Council and CCG, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the South West Academic Health Science Network.

By the end of the year the Brain in Hand digital support system will be available to young people with autism and neurodiversity in their partner locations. Through its website, those needing support along with those who support them will be able to find out more details on the system, as well as how to apply.

Earlier this year SBRI Healthcare awarded £1million to healthcare technology projects that support the NHS’ net zero ambitions.