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Tech challenge launched to offer digital support during COVID-19 outbreak

People who are required to stay at home for several weeks because of Coronavirus (COVID-19) could soon benefit from new technology that aims to combat the effects of social isolation.

NHSX has today announced funding will be made available to innovators  who can find digital ways to support those who need help during the outbreak – including people requiring mental health support and those with social care needs.

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.

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. ”

In total, there is £500,000 available to bid for – with funding of up to £25,000 per company available to innovators with solutions that could be deployed at scale in the next few weeks. Specifically, the programme is looking for digital solutions that can be deployed quickly, and could include:

  • Providing remote social care – for example by locating and matching qualified carers to those in need and managing and delivering care in care homes
  • Optimisation of the care and volunteer sector –  for example by developing tools to recruit, train and coordinate local volunteers into clinical and non-clinical workers. Or by developing tools to predict demand for health and care workers across the country to improve deployment and management of resources
  • Improving mental health support –  for example by making it easier to discover and deliver mental health services and support, or by developing tools to support self-management of mental health and well -being.
  • Any other solutions to ease pressures on services and people during this time.

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 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.”

The Government has strongly advised everyone in the country – but especially those aged 70 or over, people with underlying medical conditions or pregnant women – to reduce social interaction to help minimise the spread of the virus. Those considered most at risk of having serious complications from the virus – for instance people receiving treatment for cancer – have also been asked to stay at home for 12 weeks as part of efforts to ‘shield’ them from the virus.

Daniel Korski, CEO of PUBLIC, said: “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.”

PUBLIC has never been more certain of the value of technology in making a real difference to public services and citizens’ lives. We remain committed to helping government identify the right technologies to address the issues we face as a society.”

The programme is being launched by NHSX and managed by GovTech venture firm PUBLIC and is encouraging innovators to apply with innovative technological solutions. PUBLIC will not receive any payment for running this competition.

Techforce19 is a new challenge, open to innovative tech companies in this country who will compete to develop accessible digital tools to support people who are staying at home over the coming weeks and months.

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

Recruitment for innovators taking part in the challenge programme opens today, Thursday 19 March. The closing date for applications is 26 March 2020. Announcement of startups selected to take part in the programme will take place on 3 April.

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