News, moves and M&A roundup: Appello acquires RedAssure, Shaw departs NHS Digital, NHS App goes biometric, GP at Hand in Manchester, Verita Singapore’s three startup buys, Novant Health and Tyto Care partner

Appello telecare acquires RedAssure Independent Living from Worthing Homes. A 20-year provider of telecare services to about 700 homes in the Worthing area in West Sussex, the acquisition by Appello closed on 1 October. Previously, Appello provided monitoring services for RedAssure since 2010. Terms were not disclosed. Release.

Another NHS Digital departure is Rob Shaw, deputy CEO. He will be leaving to pursue a consulting career advising foreign governments on national health and care infrastructure. He is credited with moving the NHS Spine in-house and establishing NHS Digital’s cybersecurity function. The Digital Health article times it for around Christmas. Mr. Shaw’s departure follows other high-profile executives this year such as former chief digital officer Juliet Bauer who controversially moved to Kry/LIVI after penning a glowing article about them [TTA 24 Jan], Will Smart, Matthew Swindells, and Richard Corbridge.

One initiative that NHS Digital has lately implemented is passwordless, biometric facial or fingerprint-based log in for the NHS App, based on the FIDO (Fast-Identity Online) UAF (Universal Authentication Framework) protocol (whew!). NHS Digital’s most recent related announcement is the release of two pieces of code under open-source that will allow developers to include biometric verification for log in into their products.

Babylon Health’s GP at Hand plans Manchester expansion. The formal notification will likely be this month to commissioners of plans to open a Manchester clinic as a center for GP at Hand’s primarily virtual consults. This follows on their recent expansion into Birmingham via Hammersmith and Fulham CCG which will be notified. How it will work is that patients registering in Manchester would be added initially to a single patient list for GP at Hand located at Hammersmith and Fulham CCG. Babylon is now totalling 60,000 patients through GP at Hand.  GP Online

Singapore’s Verita Healthcare Group has acquired three digital health startups. The two from Singapore are nBuddy and CelliHealth, in addition to Germany’s Hanako. Verita has operations in Singapore, the US, Asia-Pacific and Europe, with 35 alliance partnerships with medical clinics and hospitals across Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe. Mobihealthnews APAC

Novant Health, a 640-location health system in North Carolina, is introducing Tyto Care’s TytoHome integrated telehealth diagnostic and consult device as part of its network service. Webpage, release

LIVI telemedicine app expands availability to 1.85 million patients with GPs in Birmingham, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, Southeast

The LIVI telemedicine app, which made news last year with UK partnerships in Surrey and Northwest England last year, has expanded to GP practices in Birmingham, Shropshire, Northamptonshire, and locations in the Southeast, as well as additional practices in Surrey. The Northampton General Practice Alliance and the Alliance for Better Care are among the federations partnering with LIVI.

LIVI offers NHS and private services for video consults with a GP. Patients can also access medical advice, referrals, and prescriptions. Unlike Babylon Health, the patient can use LIVI without having to register with a new, Babylon Health-linked practice and deregistering from the former GP practice. It is now available to 1.85 million UK patients. Known as Kry in the Nordic countries, LIVI also has a presence in France. 

In January, LIVI also acquired some notoriety when their current VP of product, Juliet Bauer, departed her chief digital officer spot with NHS England after an all-too-glowing article about LIVI’s Surrey pilot in The Times–without disclosing that she was joining the company in April [TTA 24 Jan] leading to charges of the ‘brazenly revolving door’ et al.

NHS England digital head Bauer exits for Swedish medical app Kry, but not without controversy

Juliet Bauer, who is departing NHS England’s chief digital officer post after 2 1/2 years for the sunnier shores of Appdom, has apparently also taken a splash in hot water on her way there. She is joining Sweden’s Kry (Livi in the UK), a GP telemedicine app available in Europe and the UK in an undisclosed product executive role. Livi offers NHS and private services for video consults, including a current contract with GPs in Surrey. 

The event that has sparked the controversy was Ms. Bauer’s article on digital health in the Times (paywalled) on 14 Jan praising Kry/Livi without disclosing publicly that she is joining the company in April. She stated that data provided by Kry/Livi showed “higher levels of patient and GP satisfaction while at the same time delivering higher patient safety and medical quality as well as crucial improvements in lowering prescription of antibiotics.” To add to it, the claim was not backed up with details nor, in reports, did the article cite other medical companies.

‘Brazen,’ ‘jaw-droppingly inappropriate’, and a ‘puff piece’ was how the article was characterized by Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons public accounts committee. Even Simon Eccles, her soon-to-be-former colleague who is CIO of health and care, chimed in that the article was a mistake by a colleague he called ‘fantastic’ in her advocacy for centering NHS around the individual. Ms. Bauer worked on the recently disclosed 10 year plan, but the key leaders were Dr. Eccles, NHS Digital boss Sarah Wilkinson, West Suffolk Hospitals Foundation Trust head Steve Dunn, and NHS England deputy chief exec Matthew Swindells. Dr. Eccles to the press dismissed any influence by her towards her future imployer.

Ms. Bauer was NHS England’s first chief digital officer, starting in July 2016. She was responsible for patient-focused digital dubbed Empower the Person, including NHS 111, the app library, and the NHS app. According to the internal memo obtained by HSJ revealing her departure, it is with ‘with immediate effect’. Replacing her from 4 February on an interim basis will be Tara Donnelly, the current chief executive of the Health Innovation Network.

The brazenly revolving door of civil servants to companies and vice versa is common on both sides of the Atlantic. Former senators, congressmen, and generals–and those well down the greasy pole–find new employment at lobbyists, companies and industries they used to oversee. Influence and connections, as well as expertise, count for a great deal in the real world. In the private sector, sometimes there are non-solicit or non-compete (the latter unenforceable in many states) agreements, with exceptions for highly regulated and conflict-prone businesses, such as insurers.

Conflict of interest? Too close for comfort to this Editor. In a publicly-funded, contract based healthcare system like the UK’s, the departure of Ms. Bauer for a company contracting with the NHS, without being specifically excluded from dealing with the NHS–in fact, in her departure statement saying quite the opposite–has raised the spectre of conflict of interest. This Editor would also question her judgment in accepting the position without said exclusion–but that was likely the reason she was hired! Will this go away soon? Probably not for at least a week! More in the Financial Times (may be paywalled), The Register 11 Jan and 22 Jan, iNews