NHS England is looking for six to eight digital innovators to share in a £400,000 fund to speed up the adoption of their products by the health service.

The commissioning board announced a new challenge fund this morning, as part of Digital Health London's Digital Development Lab, which is being delivered by mHabitat, MindTech, and Social Spider.

The focus of the fund is mental health, which has already attracted a significant amount of interest from app developers.

However, Juliet Bauer, director of digital experience at NHS England, said in a statement that it could be hard for practitioners to assess their safety and effectiveness.

“Using this fund, we can rapidly develop and scale currently available, evidence based tools,” she said.

“The Lab’s successes will mean more people can manage and care for their mental health using a set of high quality, evidence-based and safe digital tools with NHS endorsement.”

The NHS has had a difficult relationship with apps to date. An NHS apps library was set up on NHS Choices, but had to be closed after researchers showed that some of the apps it contained were not based in the UK, might be prone to data leakage, or could not show evidence of their effectiveness.

The apps library closed in October last year. However, a spokesperson for NHS England told Digital Health News at the time that it was still working on a pilot app library for mental health tools, and that there were plans for similar resources for diabetes, smoking cessation, maternity and end of life care.

At the same time, the commissioning board said it was working on a new, four step endorsement model for apps as one of the many workstreams to come out of the ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020’ IT framework that was issued to support the ‘Five Year Forward View.’

NHS England said successful applicants to the latest fund would get: Funds to accelerate the endorsement and adoption of their product; help to generate evidence of its impact; access to mentoring and peer support.

Interested developers will need to fill in an online application form by 30 October, after which there will be a shortlisting and pitching process, with the successful applicants announced in November.

Bauer said NHS England was particularly interested in “tools that support the mental health of young people and families” which might include applications to support self-care and mental resilience.

She said a further aim of the new fund was to make sure that commissioners could commission such products for their populations “with confidence.”