Winners named in NHS healthcare inequality contest

Professor Bola Owolabi, director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme at NHS England

Professor Bola Owolabi, director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme at NHS England

A competition aimed at tackling unequal access to healthcare in the NHS has been won by C2-Ai, a company that has developed an artificial intelligence-based risk assessment tool for patients, and patient organisation the Sickle Cell Society.

The Health Inequalities Targeted Call was launched to identify innovative solutions to address health inequality, systematic differences in the health status of different population groups. It was launched against a backdrop of the UK’s slide in the rankings on this measure since 2014 that have left it well below the EU average for how long people can expect to live in good health.

The call was opened last July, with the aim of tackling de-bias scoring and stratification systems across three distinct clinical settings – maternity, sickle cell disease management, and elective care – as the UK struggles with record waiting lists, a cost-of-living crisis, and an underfunded and understaffed health service.

That situation could exacerbate a situation in the UK in which black women are four times more likely than white women to die during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy, for example, and babies in the most deprived communities in the country are 1.5 times more likely to be stillborn or die after birth than those in the most affluent areas.

The call aimed to identify “innovative solutions that can improve outcomes and ensure better healthcare experiences for individuals, and families affected by these conditions,” according to the organisers.

It was supported by the NHS Innovation Accelerator, NHS England, and NHS Race and Health Observatory (RHO), with the winners announced at a Royal Society of Medicine conference earlier this week.

C2-Ai claimed one of the winner slots for its advanced clinical AI platform used to conduct patient-specific risk assessments, taking into account factors like ethnicity, deprivation data, and other social determinants in health.

The judges in the competition heard how the system – described as delivering “individualised clinical risk adjustment at scale” – can be deployed to reduce harm, mortality rates, and avoidable costs across multiple clinical settings.

By customising risk assessment for each patient, C2-Ai can help hospitals uncover up to 90% more potential harm than traditional methods. The platform has been deployed by multiple healthcare trusts in England to help bring down waiting list numbers.

The Sickle Cell Society, meanwhile, was selected as a winner for its collaborative work with healthcare professionals and patients through non-clinical support programmes such as the Children and Young People’s Mentoring Programme.

This initiative aims to empower individuals to manage their illness more independently, reducing reliance on hospital care and contributing to the broader effort to tackle healthcare inequalities.

“I’m clear that innovation, in products, approaches, and interventions, is a vital component of our multi-faceted effort to ensure equitable access, excellent experience, and optimal outcomes, for all,” commented Professor Bola Owolabi, director of the National Healthcare Inequalities Improvement Programme at NHS England.

“These initiatives are further powerful signals of our determination to collaborate and innovate our way out of health inequalities and achieve our shared purpose.”