While Minister of Life Sciences George Freeman MP speaks very highly of the need for innovation and digital health in an NHS integrated health system, the reality is less encouraging for UK startups and their growth. The story of Big Health’s Sleepio and its move from the UK, told by Bloomberg, illustrates the difficulty that new companies and technologies have in fitting into a national framework, then selling into the 209 NHS regions plus related healthcare spenders. The long cycle and the narrowness of the frameworks are disincentives for many digital health technologies and their funders. Even if you win clients as part of being on the framework, when it expires after a few years, the business can be lost.
It’s hard to crack the code, and small companies are dependent on partners. A personal anecdote from this Editor’s time at Living Independently: the company achieved getting on a national framework with the QuietCare telecare product (2007) through partnerships with several larger telecare providers. We relied on them to offer QuietCare to the regions and councils. This had limited success and the US business far outstripped that in the UK.
Ten years ago, the situation was reversed. NHS, Government and council funding helped the earliest development and acceptance of telehealth and telecare, much as the Veterans Health Administration (VA) did with home telehealth and telemedicine in the US. Other European markets and Canada have established private spending in this area, but these smaller markets–and funders– don’t have the potential that is possible in the US private market, even without reimbursement. The trend is reflected in investment: $4 bn in the US, less than €100 million in Europe. US developers now have a bonus in the potential of Asia, with China having the greatest interest and now funding. [TTA 23 July]. How the NHS Is Locking Out Britain’s Digital-Health Startups