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18 December 2018

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A product design company in Chester has been awarded funding to develop a voice-operated app to treat anxiety in young people. 

Cadscan was awarded a contract through the Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare to develop Phobot, providing interventions that support positive mental health. 

Public Health England estimates that 10 per cent of children aged between five and 16 are likely to develop a clinically significant mental health disorder, one of which is anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is often recommended as a treatment option but the provision of therapy is often restricted due to demand.

Phobot aims to provide an easy way for young people dealing with anxiety to access treatment. Voice or text-operated, the app uses artificial intelligence and natural language understanding. This technology enables Phobot to interpret a user’s words and respond with a tailored treatment programme. 

The funding has facilitated the first phase of development for Phobot, which is currently being tested on different platforms with a group of young people in partnership with the University of York. 

Dr Simon Lewis, a clinical psychologist at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, has been working with Cadscan on the development of Phobot. He said: “I’ve been working with the team to ensure that Phobot’s interactions with users are as close to real life therapy sessions as possible.  We’ve done this by adhering to widely used CBT models of understanding and working with social anxiety as well as running mock sessions which are then transposed into adaptable scripts for Phobot.

“Phobot will help young people by using key elements from an evidence-based approach to social anxiety whilst being responsive, accessible and approachable.”

Innovation Agency Commercial Programme Manager Indi Singh said: “With a real desire to introduce new technologies to the NHS, Cadscan has been awarded the SBRI Healthcare contract for a creative and accessible solution to mental health needs among young people. I’m looking forward to seeing the development of Phobot and its application making a difference.”

Dr Alastair Buchanan, Managing Director of Cadscan, said: “Many young people find it hard to access treatment for anxiety. They can develop poor coping mechanisms, including avoidant behaviours or alcohol and drug use, which lead to further problems and limit their life chances. Phobot unobtrusively delivers effective, evidence-based support whenever they need it.”

SBRI Healthcare is an NHS England initiative, led by the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), which aims to promote UK economic growth while addressing unmet health needs and enhancing the take-up of known best practice.

Photo: Cadscan Managing Director Dr Alastair Buchanan with Indi Singh of the Innovation Agency

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