The UK Space Agency has launched a multi-million-pound joint initiative with NHS England to repurpose space technology for healthcare.

Up to £4 million will be made available to innovators who can demonstrate how technology originally designed for space, such as exploration and satellite communications, could be used to improve NHS treatment and care.

Up to four applications will receive funding from the UK Space Agency to develop their ideas, along with support from NHS England and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Professor Tony Young, NHS England’s national clinical director for innovation, said: “Throughout its 70-year history the NHS has been at the forefront of healthcare innovation.

“Through this competition we are seeking the latest, greatest ideas and technical solutions to help address the modern challenges facing our health and care services.”

NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens outlined four challenges in his speech to the NHS Confederation conference in June. This included managing long-term conditions, earlier diagnosis of cancer, meeting mental health needs and transforming primary care services.

Previous endeavours to adapt space tech for medical applications include the development of a “pill camera” that can be swallowed by patients to diagnose gut problems, and slippers containing GPS sensors to help track dementia sufferers.

Other examples include mobile breast cancer screening vans that use technology funded by the UK Space Agency to beam images back to assessment centres; an app to help prevent skin cancer; and a wearable monitor that uses gyroscope equipment inspired by America’s space programme to help prevent falls in older people.

Emily Gravestock, UK Space Agency head of applications, said: “Britain’s world-leading space sector continues to grow and support vital public services like the NHS with innovative applications.

“We encourage all businesses and public bodies to consider the role that satellite data can play in tackling some of the biggest challenges we face, as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.”