UK’s National Health Service launches £500,000 COVID-19 tech competition

The innovation arm of the UK’s National Health Service, NHSx has launched a £500,000 funding competition for innovators and startups who can find digital ways to support people in need during the coronavirus outbreak. The fund will concentrate on tech initiatives that help people with mental health support and those with social care needs, and support for those who may be most affected by the consequences of remaining housebound for long periods of time.

Dubbed Techforce19, the program is being launched by NHSx and will be managed by GovTech venture firm PUBLIC. which has stated that it will not receive any payment for running the competition.

The closing date for applications is 1st April at 12pm. The announcement of projects selected to take part in the programme will take place on 3 April. Funding of up to £25,000 per company will be made available to innovators with solutions that could be deployed at scale in the next few weeks, and could include:

• Providing remote social care – for example by locating and matching qualified carers to those in need and managing and delivering care in care homes

• Optimisation of the care and volunteer sector –  for example by developing tools to recruit, train and coordinate local volunteers into clinical and non-clinical workers. Or by developing tools to predict demand for health and care workers across the country to improve deployment and management of resources

• Improving mental health support – for example by making it easier to discover and deliver mental health services and support, or by developing tools to support self-management of mental health and well-being.

• Any other solutions to ease pressures on services and people during this time.

Announcing the fund, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “Staying at home and avoiding contact with others will be absolutely necessary in reducing the spread of this virus and ultimately it will save lives. However, we know isolation is not easy – especially for older people, those who live alone, have mental health problems or those who care for others. If people cannot leave the house, we need to quickly find ways to bring support to them and today I am calling on the strength of our innovative technology sector to take on this challenge.”

Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, said: “Tech can play an important role in helping the country deal with the challenges created by coronavirus.  This competition is focussed on the problems created by isolation, which lend themselves to digital solutions.   It will allow NHSX to accelerate the development of those solutions, so within weeks they can help those in isolation suffering from loneliness, mental health issues and other problems.”

The UK government has strongly advised everyone in the country – but especially those aged 70 or over, people with underlying medical conditions or pregnant women – to reduce social interaction to help minimise the spread of the virus. Those considered most at risk of having serious complications from the virus – for instance people receiving treatment for cancer – have also been asked to stay at home for 12 weeks as part of efforts to ‘shield’ them from the virus.

Daniel Korski, CEO of PUBLIC, said: “The spread of COVID-19 has rapidly driven huge changes to British life. For many of us, our usual day-to-day is on hold as we work from home and avoid socialising with others. For those most vulnerable, however, social distancing and self-isolation will take a much greater toll. We hope that TechForce 19 will be a useful step towards identifying technologies which can be deployed quickly to help people when they need it most.”