Digital technologies for health and care

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Develop research ideas for novel digital technologies to monitor, diagnose and treat the population remotely.

You can be from any research area. You must be eligible for EPSRC research grant funding.

The first stage of the process is a ‘sandpit’ event. In this three-day online event you will work with other researchers to develop ideas for proposals.

During the event, we’ll be looking for projects that:

  • reduce the time that the public spends engaged with the traditional healthcare delivery system
  • improve health outcomes
  • enable better community-based or home-based healthcare delivery.

We will provide up to £1.5 million to fund research projects arising from the sandpit event.

Who can apply

This sandpit will include inputs from a variety of sources, bringing together:

  • social scientists
  • designers
  • engineers
  • physical scientists
  • computer scientists
  • healthcare professionals
  • biological scientists
  • innovators.

They will address the research challenges associated with developing novel digital technologies to monitor, diagnose and treat the population remotely.

Standard EPSRC eligibility rules apply. Research grants are open to:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • NHS bodies with research capacity
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

Please note that businesses are not eligible to apply for funding through this scheme.

Please read the guidance on institutional eligibility.

You can apply if you are resident in the UK and meet at least one of the bullets below:

  • are employed at the submitting research organisation at lecturer level or equivalent
  • hold a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee
  • hold an EPSRC, Royal Society or Royal Academy of Engineering fellowship aimed at later career stages
  • hold fellowships under other schemes (please contact EPSRC to check eligibility, which is considered on a case-by-case basis).

Holders of postdoctoral level fellowships are not eligible to apply for an EPSRC grant.

Submissions to this opportunity will count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

What we're looking for

Synopsis

UKRI has been working to strengthen coordination around digital technologies for health and care and to identify opportunities in this area.

One of the areas which has been highlighted for strengthening is building coordinated and well-informed research and innovation communities, with the appropriate multidisciplinary and cross-sector skills and expertise in digital health.

As a result, UKRI would like to run a sandpit to bring the different communities in this area together.

This is the second sandpit, in a series of three.

The theme for this sandpit is novel digital technologies to monitor, diagnose and treat the population remotely.

The sandpit will be held virtually over three days in the second half of October 2021.

The sandpit will be an intensive, interactive and free-thinking environment.

A diverse group of participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds will get together for three days, away from their everyday worlds. They will immerse themselves in collaborative thinking processes in order to construct innovative approaches.

It will be led by a director, who will be supported by a team of mentors.

We are pleased to announce that Professor Matt Jones (Swansea University) will be the director for this sandpit.

The director, mentors and a small number of stakeholders will attend the sandpit but will not be eligible to receive research funding. Instead, their role will be to assist participants in defining and exploring challenges in this area.

The process can be broken down into several stages:

  • defining the scope of the challenges
  • evolving common languages and terminologies amongst people from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines
  • sharing understandings of the challenges, and the expertise brought by the participants to the sandpit
  • taking part in break-out sessions focused on the challenges, using creative thinking techniques
  • capturing the outputs in the form of highly innovative research projects
  • a funding decision on those projects at the sandpit using “real-time” peer review.

Participants should be able to apply their knowledge, skills, and experience across disciplines to develop innovative research arising from a systems perspective with the potential to deliver results focused on transformative change in digital health and care.

As the sandpit progresses, participants will build up thoughts on how the identified ‘challenges’ may be addressed and develop their innovative ideas and activities into research projects.

Projects will contain genuinely novel and speculative research.

Please note that the participants will pitch an idea at the end of the sandpit which will be assessed by the panel of director and mentors.

The director and mentors will act as independent reviewers, making a funding recommendation on the projects emerging from the process through a “real-time” peer review process.

Read more about the sandpit format (EPSRC).

Scope

The broad aims of the sandpit are to generate research proposals which can:

  • form new collaborations between key researchers, innovators, and users in diverse research areas
  • create new and innovative research ideas in digital health and care based on health, clinical and social care challenges
  • allow researchers to pitch projects for seed funding to test ideas
  • address the key research challenges that are identified
  • cultivate a common language between disciplines
  • consider co-design with end-users
  • address issues around scale up and adoption experienced by current digital tools.

Successful projects from the sandpit should either have a new approach to:

  • monitor, diagnose and treat the population remotely to relieve pressure on the increasingly overstretched NHS and social care system
  • deliver efficient, effective, patient-centric care in the community.

These smarter interventions should:

  • reduce the time that the public spends engaged with the traditional healthcare delivery system
  • improve health outcomes
  • enable better community-based or home-based healthcare delivery.

UKRI wishes to explore innovative new research ideas through this sandpit.

The research ideas that will be developed at the workshop could investigate some or a combination of the following:

  • technologies to support early detection of disease and disease prevention, including secondary prevention
  • technologies which relieve pressure and burden on hospitals
  • technologies which allow efficient and effective care in community settings
  • supporting people with physical (including disabilities) and mental health conditions
  • enabling patients to manage long-term conditions including adherence to medication or other interventions for example.

The research themes discussed will be dependent on the participants. Hence, achieving the sandpit aims will require participants from an appropriate mix of diverse backgrounds and relevant disciplines including, but not limited to:

  • engineering
  • physical sciences
  • mathematics and computer science
  • social sciences
  • life sciences
  • humanities
  • medical sciences.

We will encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply for the sandpit. Diversity of background will be considered when selecting participants to attend.

Researchers from a diverse range of domains are encouraged to apply to attend this sandpit.

We are not defining the disciplines that should be represented but asking potential participants to indicate how their expertise can address the challenge of novel digital technologies for remote monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of the populace.

Applicants need not have worked on the problem before. However, emphasis will be placed on working across disciplines to foster new collaborations and bring new thinking to the problem.

We encourage applicants to:

  • consider technologies that are people centred and ensure health equality, particularly the impact of any resulting technologies on health inequalities
  • address issues with uptake and adoption of digital technologies for health and care (at an individual and organisational level) including acceptability, usability and inclusive design enabling a diverse population to access them.

Applicants should ensure they consider how they will be co-designing the digital technologies with healthcare professionals and users.

Early end-user engagement is particularly important to the successful design of a project in healthcare.

Researchers working in this area are required to consider carefully how they will undertake their work in a manner that maximises the opportunity to generate real-world impact at scale.

Some issues that should be considered are:

  • stakeholder engagement including people with lived experience
  • research integrity
  • regulation and quality
  • value.

More information can be found in the EPSRC impact and translation toolkit.

Funding available

It is expected that up to £1.5 million of UKRI funding will be made available to fund research projects arising from this sandpit.

How to apply

Apply to participate in the sandpit by completing an online expression of interest (EOI).

Sandpit expression of interest form (SmartSurvey)

Your answers to these questions will be used to assess your application and convince a panel that you have the suitable skills and attitude to participate in this sandpit.

No further documentation will be accepted.

An application will be taken to indicate participant availability for these dates and their commitment to attend if short-listed.

Please be advised attendance for the full three days is mandatory.

Deadline for applications is 21 July 2021 16:00.

Please note that late submissions will not be considered.

EPSRC will confirm selected participants and the sandpit schedule in August 2021. Those selected to attend will receive further briefing before the event.

Selected applicants will be required to inform their university research office, in advance of the event, that they are going to attend the sandpit.

If they are part of a successful project their institution will be required to fund 20% of the full economic cost project costs (as standard).

How we will assess your application

Pre-sandpit assessment

Applications to attend the sandpit will be assessed by a selection panel consisting of the sandpit director and mentors.

As a sandpit is predicated on an ethos of innovative collaborative working, applicants must demonstrate both enthusiasm and appropriate personal attributes for cross-disciplinary collaborative research.

Furthermore, the ability to develop and pursue a new approach will also be a key criterion in selecting attendees.

Applicants should not feel limited by conventional perceptions of research performed in this field. The sandpit approach is about bringing together people who would not normally interact.

The criteria for participant selection are:

  • the ability to develop new, adventurous, and highly original research ideas
  • the potential to contribute to research at the interface between disciplines
  • the ability to work in a team
  • the ability to explain research to non-experts.

Within the pool of applicants selected based on these assessment criteria, the panel will look to ensure a mix of discipline and experience.

It is therefore important to give evidence of your fulfilment of the criteria listed above in your application.

Please ensure you fully complete the EOI form, as this is the only information on which potential sandpit attendees will be selected.

In the event of this opportunity being substantially oversubscribed as to be unmanageable, EPSRC reserve the right to modify the assessment process.

Please note that because of the large number of applications expected, we will not be able to give individual feedback to unsuccessful applicants.

Post-sandpit assessment

Following the sandpit, investigators involved in those projects recommended for funding will be tasked with writing a full proposal covering their intended activities as identified at the sandpit.

The deadline for submission of full proposals is expected to be in November 2021 (date to be confirmed).

Proposals will be submitted via the research councils Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S). Further guidance on this part of the process will be available at the sandpit event.

The primary criteria used throughout the process of developing and assessing the final proposals will be how well proposals address the vision of the opportunity.

We seek to support those that show:

  • novel, highly multidisciplinary research projects, clearly reflecting the distinctive opportunity for creating such projects that the sandpit provides
  • clear evidence that the team have the capability to deliver their project as a high-quality multidisciplinary activity, provided both through the presentation and their activity during the sandpit
  • clear relevance to and the potential to make a distinctive and novel contribution to addressing the research challenges in this area.

It is planned that participants will be provided with funding decisions prior to departure from the sandpit, although these will be conditional upon the subsequent receipt of full, worked up proposal documentation.

Final funding decisions will be made in January 2022.

Any collaborative project funded through this programme must have a signed collaborative agreement between the partners before the start of any grant.

UKRI attach great importance to the dissemination of research findings and the publishing of information about the research they support in the public domain. However, all dissemination and publication must be carried out in the manner agreed in the project’s collaboration agreement.

Read EPSRC requirements on collaboration agreements.

Please note that attendance at the sandpit does not guarantee UKRI funding.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Any queries regarding the submission of proposals through Je-S should be directed to the Je-S helpdesk:

For any other queries regarding the sandpit, please contact a member of the project team:

Additional info

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