• NHSX announces funding pot for new tech to aid response to covid-19 
  • Unit wants tech that can be scaled “within weeks”
  • Concerns raised timeframe is overly ambitious 

NHSX has announced £500,000 of funding for new technology that can be scaled “within weeks” to support people who are self-isolating due to coronavirus.

However, health tech companies have raised concerns the timeframe is overly ambitious.

On Monday, NHSX urged start-ups to design innovations which allow health and social care to be delivered remotely and combat the effects of social isolation. Companies have been offered the chance to bid for a portion of the funding up to £25,000. 

One of the requirements of the scheme — which has been named Techforce19 — is that companies offer a solution “that can be scaled in a matter of weeks”. 

NHSX chief executive Matthew Gould 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.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock added: “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.

“Techforce19 will mobilise the UK’s incredible reservoir of talent to develop simple, accessible tools that can be rolled out quickly and help tackle the effect of social isolation.

“I am calling on our brilliant tech sector to take on this challenge.”

However, health tech consultant and investor at health tech company TenX Health Joe Stringer questioned the viability of the plan.

He told HSJ: “The problem is it’s not really the amount that’s the issue it’s the lead time — with the best will in the world any start-up will take at least six months to develop a solution that nails product/market fit for such a tricky issue.

“If solutions aren’t already in use, their impact will be limited to post [coronavirus] peak or in 12-18 months’ time.”

An NHSX spokesman said the tech unit is reaching out to small start-ups — not big companies — which can produce simple solutions that can be easily implemented and scaled.

NHSX has been contacted for further comment.