Following his recent success in securing funding from SBRI Healthcare to help NHS Reset and Recovery, we caught up with Dr Julian Nesbitt, founder and CEO of the Dr Julian Platform, to find out more about the award and what it will mean to the company’s development.

What is the Dr Julian platform?

The platform is being used in the NHS to provide access to mental healthcare. It connects patients to the right therapist for them by offering choice, with a patient dashboard that also gives access to tailored self-help tools and resources. It has been working with the NHS providing therapy to patients in multiple Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services as well as in other NHS services.

The SBRI Healthcare grant will enable us to look at the value of providing a ‘Software as a Service’ (SAAS) model, giving commissioners the option to offer services using Dr Julian clinicians or their own.

This is bringing a new angle to the product and reflects feedback from commissioners who would like to use their own team where possible. Essentially we are trying to provide a flexible service that works for the individual commissioning team. We listen to our customers and have responded to that with this new option.

Why did you apply for this funding?

As a GP I know that there is a staffing shortage in general practice, and it’s the same in the therapy world, and so we’ve got to find ways to maximise the efficiency of our staff.

The SBRI Healthcare call was aimed at NHS Reset and Recovery, and I knew that the Dr Julian platform could address this. COVID has shown that people are very open to online consultations, and this is backed up with earlier analysis that KSS AHSN carried out on the platform that showed a range of patient outcomes, including a 9% increased recovery rate and 50% reduction in ‘did not attends’.

While it’s important that people have choice and don’t feel forced into accessing support online, with so many open to the idea we should be making more of online services.

At Dr Julian we’ve built a platform that creates a new way of working for clinicians and improves outcomes for patients. The SBRI Healthcare award offers the perfect opportunity to share the technology with other service providers so that more people can benefit from it.

What was the application process like, and how did KSS AHSN help?

There are a series of questions that you have to answer and hit all the key points. It’s also important to know the wider context of any application, and evidence how you meet themes such as inequalities, patient public involvement and net zero.

I’ve known KSS AHSN and worked with Nuala Foley, Portfolio Lead: Commercial and Partnerships, for a long time, and the team have always been very supportive. I mentioned the SBRI Healthcare bid to them and asked if they thought I should apply.

Because we’d already completed an evaluation through KSS AHSN I was keen to work with them again for the evaluation element of the bid. KSS AHSN agreed and also gave us support with a bid writer who really helped me to hone the messaging – without that I would have really struggled.

So, for example we were able to explain that the platform addressed health inequalities, as it allows people to choose the language and demographic of their therapist. It also supports the NHS Net Zero vision by removing the need for people having to travel to face-to-face appointments.

What are you going to do with the funding?

My vision is to share the tech that we’ve built with other services in the NHS. It can be difficult to change systems in the NHS, but we’ve integrated with others to give the benefits of the patient-facing side of the Dr Julian platform. It’s already been successfully launched with NHS Practitioner Health, who are using our system with their own staff and therapists.

The funding will allow us to further implement our system and make sure that it does everything that IAPT needs to do. We can adjust it in whatever way is needed and then do a pilot study with the service using our platform. We’ll then carry out an evaluation to see its impact in one site, and from that we would hope to scale that up in IAPT services, as well as into other services such as eating disorders and ADHD.

What impact will it make on your company’s development?

The funding means that we’re able to diversify our offering, and it will also accelerate our ability to work collaboratively with the NHS.

To try and get an NHS Trust or service to change a system or trial something when everyone’s overstretched is very, very hard and would take a long time – you have to prove the benefit before people take it on, but you need them to use the system to prove its benefit.

SBRI Healthcare gives us the opportunity to expand and accelerate our work, and show the value that it can add to the NHS.  Additionally we’re looking to see if we can build in more tools, such as worksheets that cover the homework that therapists set their clients, so that people can easily access that info which, in turn, will build engagement and reduce the sessions they need, maximising the workforce more.

Without SBRI Healthcare we just wouldn’t be in a position to do any of that, but now we can help a much wider range of services and patients.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for funding?

It can be daunting, but if you don’t apply you’re not going to be successful and you’re not going to learn from it. If you think your solution fits the brief, then I would always just apply.

If you’ve never applied for funding before I’d recommend that you speak to someone who’s done it before. It’s also really helpful to try and get support from an AHSN, especially from an evaluation perspective. They should also be able to put you in touch with a grant writer that can support your bid.