As of 24 March 2020, there have been almost 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK with almost 300 deaths as reported by the World Health Organisation. Analysis suggests that the UK’s trajectory will surpass Italy, which has been hit the hardest with almost 6,000 deaths from the pandemic thus far. Despite frustrations over cancelled events, social distancing measures and self-isolation, these matters are trivial in comparison to the families who have lost loved ones and so before I start, I would like to share my deepest condolences with those affected.
In this blog post, I would like to cover a handful of potential tech market shifts that could result from the COVID-19 outbreak, with a particular focus on UK health and social care.
Many organisations are currently being forced to accommodate a home-based workforce whether they are ready to do so or not. This has led to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issuing guidance across the UK on how to adhere to cybersecurity best practices amid fears that organisations relatively new to the concept are ill-prepared. Not only will remote working result in greater demand for laptops, VPNs and communication/collaboration tools but it will also change the landscape of office culture once the outbreak is under control. Free trials, such as Microsoft Teams, will give suppliers the chance to prove their worth in the hope of sticking around once it is all over.
GP surgeries across the country have been urged to reduce face-to-face consultations with those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and instead, assess patients remotely. In parallel, we have witnessed hundreds of additional staff recruited to answer 111 calls and NHSX announce TechForce19, a £500k initiative for suppliers who can offer digital solutions to support members of the general public under self-isolation orders. Telehealth was on the rise to begin with due to the pressure of NHS staffing shortages but this looks only to accelerate its market growth.
The Prime Minister’s ambition for the UK to become a leader in life sciences is based primarily on one condition; the ability to create a centralised pool of clinical data. Genomics, which plays a key role in this plan, looks set to receive further investment from the UK Government. On top of this, further funding will be required to ensure a robust supporting infrastructure that can securely integrate, store, access and utilise masses of data including genome sequencing. We are already seeing the application of High-Performance Computing (HPC) in the US to understand the current threat, which could act as a benchmark for other nations to follow suit.
Drug approvals and diagnostic tests
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the complexities of developing diagnostic tests and bringing new drugs to market. In the hypothetical absence of existing pharmaceutical products able to fight the virus; waiting 10+ years for a drug to be developed and brought to market is unfathomable and the red tape that labs are faced with in developing rapid diagnostic tests wastes valuable time. The result may come in the form of policy reviews, a relaxation of approval processes and the application of AI and automation technologies in an effort to accelerate the development lifecycle without losing vital quality checkpoints.
Robots, Drones and Automated Vehicles
Social distancing orders have resulted in countries such as China utilising robots, drones and automated vehicles in a variety of ways. These include communicating with the general public remotely, assisting healthcare workers and patients, disinfecting hospitals and delivering vital supplies. The UK has only begun to dip its toe into these waters but COVID-19 serves to highlight their value in extreme situations. Of the three aforementioned subcategories, robotics would arguably have the highest potential for health and social care as an alternative for non-critical human interaction.