London is one of the biggest hubs of healthcare innovation in Europe. London healthtech startups secured $2.9bn in funding from 2016 to 2021 according to data from London & Partners and Dealroom.co. The findings revealed that UK healthtech growth is being driven primarily by London, Oxford and Cambridge.
At DigitalHealth.London, we’ve seen first-hand the growth in the digital health sector in London. When DigitalHealth.London was launched in 2016 the aim was to create an active digital health market in London through removing some of the challenges that were holding innovators back. This was at the very beginning of the digital health revolution and the landscape is now almost unrecognisable.
London has long been a hub for this growth, but it isn’t the only place that innovation is happening. Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) are the key innovation arm of the NHS – DigitalHealth.London was created by London’s three AHSN’s, alongside other partners, but there are 15 AHSNs in total spread across England. The AHSN’s are all working toward the same aim of improving health and generating economic growth. From Yorkshire & Humber AHSN which recently won highly commended at the 2022 HSJ Awards for their SENTINEL project which is reducing the associated carbon footprint that comes with prescribing blue inhalers, to South West AHSN where they are supporting local digital health app TickerTest to launch a first-of-its-kind trial to enable patients to undertake health checks at home – the AHSN’s are catalysts for health innovation identification and spread.
In February 2022, Michael Gove unveiled the government’s flagship Levelling Up White Paper, setting out a plan to spread opportunity equally across the UK. While London is a great place for digital health companies to start their journey, we’ve found that some of the most successful companies we’ve worked with are the ones that use this experience and what they’ve learnt in London to spread nationally.
At the forefront
We spoke to some of the companies who’ve been through the Accelerator programme about how they’ve grown nationally:
Cera provides digital-first home healthcare, delivering care, nursing, telehealth and repeat prescriptions. Cera was on the first ever cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme in 2016 and since then its growth has been dramatic. Cera’s revenue has grown 100-fold in less than three years and last year, Cera secured 2022’s largest UK Health Tech fundraise of $320 million, allowing it to grow its capacity from visiting 15,000 patients per day to 100,000 per day. Cera delivers care on behalf of over 300 NHS Integrated Care Boards and Local Governments, covering a population of over 20 million people – equivalent in capacity to 50 NHS hospitals.
Dr Ben Maruthappu MBE, Co-Founder & CEO of Cera said: “The Levelling Up agenda should encourage best practice partnerships between digital innovators and frontline teams, helping NHS organisations in commercial negotiations to make it easier for technology companies and public services to align. The agenda sets out that by 2030, the gap in health life expectancy (HLE) between local areas where it is highest and lowest should have narrowed. Digital health companies that specifically target this aim, in addressing and tackling the disparity in HLE, stand in good stead to succeed. As investment hopefully begins to level across the country, companies solely situated in the South East may find that funding there becomes more difficult to secure, so there is greater opportunity to diversify across the nation.”
When asked what advice they would give to other digital health companies aiming to grow nationally, Dr Marutthappu said: “Invest in scalable technologies, to develop a nationwide footprint that uses fewer resources. This will make your company adaptable to changing demands, allowing you to pivot more easily. Tailor your approach where possible: not every city, region, or Integrated Care Board will require the same services. Focus on hiring great talent – this seems obvious, but it is easier said than done and makes a tremendous difference in your company’s ability to grow.”
HN (formerly Health Navigator) predicts and prevents unplanned care events using AI on existing healthcare data. It was established in 2015 and joined the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator in 2018 as part of cohort three at which point it had 13 employees, mostly focused in London and approximately £60,000 revenue. Since then, its revenue has increased to £3.4million and it has 70 employees spread across the country and internationally, with virtual working making recruitment much easier. It has also accessed support from across the ecosystem including from Yorkshire and Humber AHSN, SBRI Funding and the National Innovation Accelerator. Joachim Werr, Founder of HN, said: “In a virtual world, companies shouldn’t put more focus on getting contracts in London than the rest of UK. Success can be local first, then regional and then national – just focus on creating a business case in the NHS.”
getUBetter is an evidence based and CE marked Digital MSK Self-Management Platform for all common MSK conditions and women’s pelvic health. getUBetter was one of the five recipients of the Health Innovation Network’s Innovation Grants which have been awarded to help kickstart innovative health and care projects. This money has been used to pilot the use of getUBetter in St George’s A&E Department. By the end of the time on the Accelerator programme, the solution was live across all south west London, had been rolled out across three integrated care systems and was to be rolled out in south east London. It has also been rolled out across the whole of Bristol, north Somerset, and south Gloucester. The Accelerator programme supported getUBetter in developing and understanding new relationships in London whilst refining and testing their value proposition to fit NHS needs, through a series of one-to-one sessions with their NHS navigator.
“The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme played a great role in helping us to connect with NHS leads to provide digital first approach self-management solutions for many MSK patients,” said Carey McClellan, CEO and Clinical Director of getUBetter.
Patchwork helps to reduce the reliance on recruitment agencies by connecting organisations to a growing number of flexible bank workers. To date, Patchwork has grown to support 100+ NHS organisations across the UK. It began by rolling out digital staff banks to support temporary workforce planning and has since expanded to develop a fully end-to-end workforce solution. This includes the creation of a number of collaborative staff banks – the largest of which brings together 24 Trusts in the North West – an innovative rostering platform, an Agency Manager solution and a data insights tool.
Patchwork was on cohort four of the Accelerator in 2019/20. Omar Bhakri, Chief of Staff for Patchwork Health said: “We were at an exciting point in our growth when we joined the Accelerator, where we were ready to scale and begin partnering with organisations nationwide. The Accelerator supported this next step through access to in-depth expertise and guidance on navigating what can often be a complex procurement process when partnering with the NHS. Since joining the programme, we’ve grown considerably, to a team of over 100, who work remotely, in our London and regional offices, and abroad. This growth has enabled us to begin working with an increasing number of NHS partners right across the UK and to expand the range of products and services we are able to provide.
“It’s crucial that digital health innovation does not unwittingly perpetuate a postcode lottery when it comes to patient health outcomes, and so focusing on this through concerted efforts like the Levelling Up agenda is particularly important.”
Bhakri felt that the most important advice for digital health companies looking to spread nationally is: “to prioritise building strong connections. Having a reliable network of peers and innovators who are going through a similar process will enable you to harness shared learnings and access helpful guidance along the way. When approaching new NHS organisations and entering new partnerships, prioritising connection is just as important. Invest in fostering collaborative, long-term partnerships.”
Limbic was on the most recent cohort of the Accelerator programme in 2022 and it has created a web-based AI-chatbot (Limbic Access) specifically for NHS primary specialist care for mental illness – the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service. Currently Limbic Access is integrated into 25% of all Talking Therapy services. It’s the most widely used mental health e-triage tool in the NHS. Over 140,000 patients have used Limbic Access to self-refer, contributing to Talking Therapy access targets.
Dr. Charlotte Lee-Sinclair, Head of Commercial at Limbic, said: “Limbic’s mission is to make mental health support accessible to everyone, everywhere regardless of socioeconomic status. Technology has the ability to raise the floor for everyone and we’ve seen this impact in other sectors. It’s why so much investment and focus has been poured into the health technology space, and it’s why Limbic exists today. If executed properly, providing support to underfunded, underserved and under resourced areas can only be of benefit to the communities that live there. Whilst the Levelling Up agenda obviously provides opportunity for digital health companies to support these councils, services and areas, the onus should be less on what opportunity does this agenda provide to digital health companies, but how can digital health companies support these largely underrepresented communities. In mental health specifically, we’ve seen the ability for Limbic Access to improve access to traditionally underrepresented communities in the services using the tool. Whilst this is proof of concept, building for heterogeneity is at the heart of how we continue to develop the product.”
London as an international landing point
When it comes to international digital health companies, London is often the place they first land before exploring opportunities nationally. Fibricheck was part of cohort five of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator and the company gained 10 additional contracts while on the programme and also deepened its credibility and visibility with NHS stakeholders. The team grew its expertise on UK Information Governance (IG) and cyber security requirements, and also refined its NHS value proposition and commercial offer. At the end of their time on the Accelerator, the solution had been adopted in over 30 centres across the NHS. Felicia Vaz, Project Manager at FibriCheck, said: “As a Belgian company, the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme has introduced us to an invaluable network of UK experts, who gave us guidance in understanding the NHS landscape and how it works. The Accelerator also assisted in exposure to opportunities for pilots and commercial contracts within key NHS trusts to test and validate our product. The efforts of the Accelerator have been immensely helpful in deepening our understanding and approach to the UK market, because ultimately, we are passionate about making it easy as possible for people to know if they have an irregular heart rhythm and subsequently prevent AF strokes from happening.”
Looking to the future
London is one of the most exciting digital health and care hubs in the world and it is vital that it remains a place where national and international digital health companies come to innovate. It is also vital that it continues to be a place from which innovation can then spread nationally, taking learnings and opportunities to the rest of the country. DigitalHealth.London continues to work to spread and scale the highest quality digital health innovations, to improve the NHS and social care for staff and patients.
Applications to the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme are open now! Find out more and apply here.