• Matt Hancock meet with ten digital health companies before his maiden speech
  • Attendees included Babylon Healthcare and Google Deepmind representatives
  • Secretary of state told attendees he would stand up to “vested interests”

New health secretary Matt Hancock held a meeting within days of being appointed with 10 disruptive technology businesses in which he promised to fight against “vested interests” when they impede innovation.  

Records, released to HSJ under the Freedom of Information Act, show Mr Hancock and senior officials met with the digital healthcare companies on 18 July, nine days after he succeeded Jeremy Hunt. Two days later, in his first speech as health secretary, he said that improving NHS technology would be an “early priority”. 

Most of the companies represented at the meeting were launched in the last five years and have “disruptive” business models which aim to challenge existing ways of providing services. Among the attendees was Babylon Healthcare founder Ali Parsa, whose NHS partnership, GP at Hand, Mr Hancock praised in his speech, describing it as “brilliant for me” and advocating for its expansion.

The Department of Health and Social Care described the meeting as an “introductory” round table and declined to comment further on what was discussed.

However, sources familiar with the meeting said Mr Hancock told the companies he would “stand up to vested interests” and if he achieved ”only one thing in the job” it would be to bring NHS and social care technology into the 21st century.

He also reiterated that he would change NHS rules if required to “fully harness the opportunities of tech”, sources said.

Locum Tap chief executive Dr Anas Nader, who attended the meeting, told HSJ said there was no specific agenda, with conversation focusing on the companies experience with the NHS, including “what works, what doesn’t and how the NHS could make the most out of digital transformation”.

He said that specific topics covered include Mr Hancock’s priorities, how technology can help meet growing patient demand, and how DHSC and NHS England can help foster better relationships between tech companies and NHS providers.

DHSC declined to comment on whether Mr Hancock had subsequently held other meetings with other IT suppliers.

Many of the companies that attended provide technical solutions for problems already highlighted by NHS leaders, such as more flexible management of the NHS workforce and increasing capacity for caring for patients at home.

They include a company, Forward Health, that has developed a secure clinical messaging app and another, Touch Surgery, that helps train surgical students using simulations via their phone.

Other attendees included Dr Hakim Yadi, chief executive of the Northern Health Science Alliance, NHS chief clinical information officer Dr Simon Eccles, DHSC director of primary care, digital and data Katie Farrington, and Mr Hancock’s chief technology advisor, Hadley Beeman.

All suppliers represented at the meeting have been approached for comment. 

Digital healthcare industry attendees included:

Jean Nehme, co-founder, of Touch Surgery

Touch Surgery makes surgical simulation software, including a mobile app, designed to train surgical students to more safely perform surgery. The software is used extensively by universities in the United States, including at John Hopkins and Harvard Medical School, and by Oxford University Hospitals FT in the UK.

Philip Mundy and Dr Barney Gilbert, co-founders, Foward Health

Foward Health is a London-based Whatsapp style secure clinical messaging and task management app start-up, that is already being used by some NHS doctors.

Anas Nader, co-founder, Locum Tap

Locum Tap is software used for managing and analysing temporary staffing needs using your existing workforce. Used by Chelsea and Westminster FT, where the company claims it has helped keep average bank fill rates at 90 per cent.

Ali Parsa, founder, Babylon Healthcare

Babylon Healthcare is a primary digital health provider that provides GP video appointments via a patient’s mobile phone and a digital triage chatbot. It already provides both private and NHS services, the latter primarily through its GP at Hand partnership with a Fulham GP practice. The service has faced opposition from some GPs, with concerns that it is destabilising primary care and fragmenting clinical pathways, and has attracted NHS England intervention.

Stefan Magdalinski, chief operating officer, Cera Care

Founded by a former NHS England innovation adviser, Ben Maruthappu, it has been likened to Uber for home care, connecting people with home carers. It has been commissioned by several, mostly London, CCGs to provide care to NHS patients.

Dr Lisa Smith and Rupinder Singh, chief executive and chief operating officer at Kraydel

A Northern Ireland-based company that sells a sensor that plugs into a person’s television and can track their behaviour, through movement and sounds, and send alerts to carers in the event of abnormal behaviour. The device can also be used to set reminders for the person and host video calls.

Govin Murugachandran, founder of Acea Health, and David Williams, chief technical officer at Fly Notes

Part of the wider Acea Health company, the Manchester-based Fly Notes is a digital consent platform designed specifically for healthcare. The NHS is trying to roll-out a national scheme to allow patient to opt-out of sharing their patient identifiable data beyond direct care.

Katie Bettell-Higgins, vice president at Patients Knows Best 

Well established as one of the main provider of patient-held digital records in the NHS, that allows patients to control their health record and communicate with clinicians. Supplier to regional patient access schemes in Wales, North West London and Surrey, as well as about a dozen trusts.

Stephen Bourke, co-founder of Echo

Echo is an online delivery service that allows patients to order repeat prescriptions from their GP and have them delivered by post by Echo, after being supplied by two other pharmacy firms which the company is working with. Mr Bourke has described the model as a “Deliveroo type” service, which has “support from NHS Digital and NHS England”. It is on NHS Digital’s app library.

Dr Alan Karthikesalingam, Translational Research Lead at DeepMind Health and an unidentified colleague

DeepMind, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, is a London-based machine learning company that has half a dozen partnerships with NHS hospital trusts. Some of these partnerships are focused on using AI to read medical images and others on the company’s streams medical alert app (which does not use machine learning). Deepmind hit the headlines last year when the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that a patient record sharing arrangement between the company and Royal Free London FT was unlawful.