How the Covid-19 pandemic has put the UK healthtech sector centre stage

The UK’s healthtech sector has rallied its world-class talent and skills to help in the fight against Covid-19. Startups and scaleups have found themselves working side by side with large-scale, global tech companies towards the common goal of providing new and much-required services and technology. 


From tracking cases to supporting front-line staff; loaning vital equipment and resources; providing online patient care; and gathering and analysing data; tech companies large and small across the country are rising to the challenge to help the government and the NHS. 

“Over the last month the UK’s healthtech sector has shown why it is a global leader, quickly using its expertise to develop practical solutions to help the government and the NHS with innovative products and services to respond to those in need. These new technologies will not only help in the here and now but they will also  shape the future of healthcare in the UK and indeed across the world. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the startups and tech companies that have switched their entire focus to backing the national effort to tackle this health crisis.” Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital

“We are seeing scaleups making huge leaps that would normally take years, in just a few weeks. The UK’s healthtech sector has grown in size and value in recent years and has taken an increasing level of investment from venture capital backers. That puts the sector in a strong position right now and it is brilliant to see the sector using its resources to step up to the challenge.” Gerard Grech, Chief Executive of Tech Nation

The UK healthtech sector has been able to step up because it is one of the strongest in the world, having attracted $7.7bn (£6.2bn) from global venture capital investors over the last five years, according to data from Tech Nation’s Data Commons, provided by Healthtech is now the second biggest sub-set of the UK tech sector after fintech and there are more than 100 healthtech companies that are on track to become $1bn businesses.

The rapid switch to digital communication and tools across the sector, in the face of the crisis, is likely to have a profound impact on how quickly digital healthcare becomes part of the healthcare system in the next few years. 

“Tech can help the country deal with coronavirus. Digital tools are vital, whether they work to collect data or to connect patients with clinical staff. I’m delighted that so many startups and innovative tech businesses have offered their skills, talent and ideas to help us.” Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX

Push Doctor is and always has been passionate about supporting digital technology throughout the NHS. Our partnership and collaborative approach with the NHS over the past few years has allowed our partners to see the benefits of telemedicine and digital healthcare overall. I am proud to see a number of digital providers collectively coming together to support the crisis and ensuring our heroic NHS staff are exposed to the virus as little as possible.”  Wais Shaifta, Chief Executive Officer of Push Doctor

In six of the last seven years, investment in UK healthtech has been the highest in Europe and the number of companies in the sector has increased by more than 25% since 2015. During 2019 the sector received $2.3bn in venture capital backing, almost double that of France, the next highest recipient. The companies in the sector have a combined turnover of £24 billion and employ more than 127,400 people across 3,860 businesses. 

“For a long time we have been talking about the potential for better use of data and AI in healthcare and digital delivery of care and tools to support front-line clinicians. Now we are getting the chance to use these for real on a mass scale. The crisis is giving healthtech companies the chance to show what they can do and the response from the many companies who have got involved demonstrates that we do have the talent and skills here to build globally significant healthtech companies.” Julia Hawkins, partner at LocalGlobe

This comes as the Chancellor announced UK businesses driving innovation and development hit by Covid-19 will be helped with a £1.25 billion government support package. This includes a £500 million investment fund for high-growth companies, made up of funding from government and the private sector to protect these businesses and enable the unicorns of tomorrow to thrive.

Fast-moving solutions

The fast-moving and quick changing nature of Covid-19 has required a response similar in speed and agility. The UK healthtech sector’s quick response has been nothing short of inspiring.

Oxford Nanopore Technologies has provided its suite of sequencing products to countries worldwide, to help with the research and genetic epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. 

Gordon Sanghera, CEO, Oxford Nanopore said “The scientific community has been quick to use sequencing technologies to understand the transmission of coronavirus, and whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself is changing, as well as the effect of other pathogens that are present alongside the virus.  This information will also be a vital tool for public health authorities as they manage a responsible lifting of restrictions, in countries across the world. We are committed to supporting scientists using Oxford Nanopore’s technology for this important work, and while we do that our R&D teams continue to innovate for coronavirus.”

BenevolentAI, who recently joined Future Fifty 8.0 have already identified a potential Covid-19 treatment that has moved forward to clinical testing.

“Life sciences and technology companies have a duty to mobilise resources for the public good in this global health emergency that has already claimed so many lives. That’s why we turned our AI drug discovery and development platform toward understanding the body’s response to coronavirus and exploring existing medicines with the potential to address the life threatening complications of the disease. We’re pleased that the Eli Lilly drug we identified as a potential treatment for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties has already been moved forward to clinical testing in America and we look forward to the results.” Baroness Joanna Shields, CEO, BenevolentAI

AccuRx, a trusted tool for UK GPs to send text messages to patients, built a video consultation product over a single weekend, which is now being used by over 90% of GP practices and for online appointments.

CEO and Co-founder, Jacob Haddad of  accuRx said “NHS staff need to have safe, reliable and intuitive ways of communicating with patients and colleagues, and the crisis has made this need more acute than ever. Building a video consultation product over a weekend was one of the first ways that we were able to achieve that and we have already released a range of other features to support frontline staff. GP practices and hospitals are being forced to make these changes to stay safe and maintain routine services. When the pandemic is over, we will have seen a decade of digital transformation take place.”

Supporting those on the ground

Giving vital support to the people on the frontlines who are tackling the virus head-on is one of the most immediate ways that healthtech has been helping.

Healthtech unicorn and Future Fifty 8.0 cohort member Babylon’s 24/7 GP at Hand app and Covid-19 Care Assistant app, a symptom tracker, are providing much needed relief for the UK’s 111 services.

“Right now we are seeing huge demand for our services and have been given contracts to serve 8% of the population of England with our digital first coronavirus Care Assistant. We are determined to help play our part across all our communities globally. As we are seeing through the course of this pandemic, while the burden of healthcare is global, the solutions have to be localised to meet the specific needs and culture of each country.” Dr Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon

Microsoft UK has given all users of NHSmail in England and Scotland access to Teams, its workplace collaboration platform, for three months.They’ve also teamed up with Google, Palantir, AWS and Faculty to support NHSX and NHS England’s technical teams in developing a data platform that provides safe, secure, reliable and timely data.

“Supporting the NHS and the UK’s healthcare system has never been more vital. We are proud to arm the most talented healthcare professionals in the world with safe, secure and robust technology solutions, empowering them to make the decisions required to deliver world-class care to those who need it.” Cindy Rose, CEO, Microsoft UK

London-based Doctor Care Anywhere are giving free training for GPs in the UK to help them manage and conduct video consultations, and temporary staffing platforms Patchwork Health and OnCare have made their systems free for NHS Trusts, and care workers. 

Warrington’s Blue Prism has donated ‘robot workers’ to the NHS to help Trusts automate manual processes from hiring staff to increasing video patient consultations.

Tackling the mental toll

UK healthtech is also considering the mental health impact of the pandemic, with many NHS workers experiencing high levels of physical and emotional stress. Unmind, the British mental-health platform that empowers organisations and employees to measurably improve their mental wellbeing are offering free access to NHS staff. Meditation app Headspace is also providing its app for free to NHS staff. The app assists meditation and increases mindfulness.

Big Health, another UK healthtech, is offering over 1 million NHS staff the Sleepio and Daylight apps free. Sleepio is a cognitive and behavioural app that aims to improve sleep – something that is so important to those on the frontline, and Daylight guides its users through issues of worry and anxiety.

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