NHSX has announced £500,000 of funding for innovators who can offer digital solutions to support those self-isolating because of coronavirus.

The tech challenge, launched today (23 March), aims to quickly bring to market technology that can help people likely to be impacted most by self-isolation, including those with mental health issues or requiring social care support.

The programme, monikered TechForce19, is looking for digital solutions that can be deployed quickly, and could include remote social care support, tools for recruiting, training and coordinating local volunteers, tools for assessing the demand of workforce resources around the country and digital services for self-managing mental health and wellbeing.

Up to £25,000 is available to each company that participates, and the aim is to have the solutions deployed “at scale” within weeks.

The government also wishes to hear from any innovators with technology that could help to “ease pressures on services and people” amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

Health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “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.”

The programme is being launched by NHSX and managed by GovTech venture firm, PUBLIC, which will not receive any payments form running the initiative.

Supporting those most at risk

The technology is intended to supplement existing support for those who may be most affected by the consequences of remaining housebound for long periods of time.

It comes after the Government last week shut down schools, pubs, bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres, museums and cafes in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19, and urged everybody in the country to avoid all but “essential” travel.

People aged 70 or over, people with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women in particular have been strongly urged to reduce social interaction. Those considered most at risk of having serious complications from the virus – for instance people receiving treatment for cancer – have been asked to stay at home for 12 weeks as part of efforts to shield them from the virus.

As NHS services face increasing pressure from coronavirus, tech suppliers have rallied to support them by offering tools that enable clinicians to continue seeing patients while avoiding face-to-face contact.

Yet the somewhat confused message about coronavirus in the UK has left many patients anxious and confused about how and where they can access support.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said: “Tech can play an important role in helping the country deal with the challenges created by coronavirus.  This competition is focused 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.”

Daniel Korski, CEO of PUBLIC, added: “The spread of COVID-19 has rapidly driven huge changes to British life. For many of us, our usual day-to-day is on hold as we work from home and avoid socialising with others.

“For those most vulnerable, however, social distancing and self-isolation will take a much greater toll. We hope that TechForce 19 will be a useful step towards identifying technologies which can be deployed quickly to help people when they need it most.”

Recruitment for innovators taking part in the challenge programme opens today, Thursday 19 March. The closing date for applications is 1 April. Announcement of start-ups selected to take part in the programme will take place on 3 April.

For more information on the programme and how to apply, visit Techforce19.uk.

The latest NHS stay at home advice for coronavirus can be found here.