NHSX and Public, the govtech startup accelerator, have launched a technology challenge called Techforce19 to encourage software developers to build software to help people during the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.
With £500,000 worth of government funding available, NHSX said the aim of the tech challenge is to provide new support for people isolating because of coronavirus by funding innovators to find ways to deliver mental health and social care support digitally.
Through the funding, NHSX hopes to be able to help people who are required to stay at home for several weeks because of coronavirus by providing new technology to combat the effects of self-isolation.
The government has 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.
Over the weekend, it ramped up efforts to ensure people maintain social distance and has now put in place social isolation plans for high-risk individuals, who have certain long-term medical conditions such as cancer and are taking courses of medication that lower their immunity.
Tech innovations developed under Techforce19 are intended to supplement existing support for people who may be most affected by the consequences of remaining housebound for a long period.
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.”
Hancock added: “I am calling on our brilliant tech sector to take on this challenge.”
Read more about how tech is supporting the coronavirus battle plan
The goals of Techforce19 include: providing remote social care, such as locating and matching qualified carers to those in need and managing and delivering care in care homes; optimising the care and volunteer sector through the development of tools to recruit, train and coordinate local volunteers into clinical and non-clinical workers; and improving mental health support, such as 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 wellbeing.
Techforce19 will also be looking for any technology that can ease pressures on services and people during this challenging 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 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.”