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UK Space Agency offers £4m fund for using space tech in the NHS

The UK Space Agency is giving £4m to innovators working to adapt space technology to improve medical treatment and care in the NHS

The UK Space Agency is offering up a £4m fund to develop ways of using space technology to improve patient care in the NHS.

The funding is part of a joint programme with NHS England to turn technology designed for use in space into medical applications to be used in the NHS.

The £4m will be split between up to four successful applications, which have to be focused on one of four challenges outlined by NHS England CEO Simon Stevens. They include earlier cancer diagnosis, mental health, transforming primary care and managing long-term conditions.  

The successful applicants will, along with the funding, get support and advice from the European Space Agency and NHS England. Emily Gravestock, the UK Space Agency’s head of applications, said the space sector was continuously growing and supporting public services such as the NHS with its “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,” she said.

Space technology is already being used in the NHS, such as in video capsule endoscopy, where the patient swallows a small pill-sized camera which can travel through the intestine, figuring out what’s wrong.

In Dorset, space technology is being used in GPS tracking devices in insoles, which are put in the footwear of people with dementia. Should the patient wander outside a set of given parameters, carers are automatically alerted via an app, and can find the vulnerable person and reduce the chance of them coming to any harm. 

Tony Young, NHS England’s national clinical director for innovation, said the competition aimed to find the “the latest, greatest ideas and technical solutions to help address the modern challenges facing our health and care services”.

This is only part of a series of initiatives focused around the NHS’s 70th birthday this year. Last week, prime minister Theresa May gifted the NHS an extra £20bn a year by 2023 in honour of its birthday – money which is to come from a tax increase and the so-called “Brexit dividend”, as the UK leaves the EU.

The long-term funding will provide better investment in technology, ensuring the NHS can create a plan that “makes better use of capital investment to modernise its buildings and invests in technology to drive productivity improvement”.

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