Government Sets £9m Competition For UK Digital Health Projects

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New competition looks for tech to solve health issues — including privacy questions around the exploitation of sensitive patient data

The government is calling on small and medium-sized UK firms to submit proposals as part of a £9 million competition aimed at delivering high-tech innovations for the health sector, including projects aimed at dealing with the privacy issues around the exploitation of sensitive healthcare data.

The competition takes place under health secretary Matt Hancock, who took office in July and formerly served as minister for digital from 2016 up to the beginning of this year.

The backing for winning projects is to be drawn from the £181m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund under the auspices of the government’s new funding body, UK Research and Innovation, and is to be delivered by Innovate UK, which is now part of UKRI.

The government said the challenge is aimed at developing “novel digital technology solutions for healthcare challenges”.

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Digital projects can improve patient outcomes while reducing costs for health providers, the government said.

Firms can compete for up to £1m for feasibility studies or up to £8m for collaborative research and development projects.

The government said it is looking for uses of technologies including virtual and augmented reality, AI and machine learning, the Internet of Things and data analytics, as well as security issues around the use of health data.

Projects can be intended for use in clinical or non-clinical environments, including technologies for supporting clinical decision-making, improving access to healthcare or patient-led management, improving diagnosis, treatment, recovery and long-term care, or improving the quality and reducing the costs of healthcare results.

The government also said it is looking for projects that could help ease the privacy issues associated with the exploitation of patient information.

The NHS has previously attracted criticism from the NHS for allowing Google’s AI subsidiary, DeepMind, to make use of patient data without patients’ knowledge.

Data protection laws have recently become significantly more strict under the GDPR, which took effect in May.

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The deadline for applications for both competitions is the end of this month.

Only UK-based small or medium-sized enterprises are eligible to apply, but those planning to lead feasibility studies can work with other businesses, NHS organisations, universities, research bodies or public sector or charity organisations.

Feasibility studies can last up to 12 months and have total costs of between £50,000 and £75,000, with businesses eligible to recoup up to 70 percent of project costs.

Collaborative projects can last up to 24 months and have total projects costs of £300,000 to £1m.

Applicants for collaborative grants are to be invited for interviews from 7 to 11 January of next year.

All projects must begin by 1 April of next year.

Winners of a previous £17m funding round, announced last week, included a GPS app for tracking bed availability in hospitals, an AI tool linking operating theatre schedules with bed availability in other wards, and 3D printing for tablets.

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