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Healthtech in the UK: can startups rescue the NHS?

08 November 2017|by Thomas Sheils

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that by 2061, healthcare spending in the UK could consume around 12% of the country’s GDP – compared with around 6.8% in 2016/17. In this post, we look at some of the UK’s leading medical and healthtech startups that could help relieve some of that pressure on the NHS, now and in the future.

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Cera* for social care

Cera, a provider of home care to vulnerable people in the UK, has been building up quite a buzz since launching in November 2016 as a sort of ‘Uber for care’. Elderly people (or rather, their families) in need of extra support sign up to the web-based service, indicate their specific needs, and are then presented with a curated short-list of carers who match their requirements. Their services can then be booked on-demand.

Earlier this year in March, they actually signed a partnership with Uber, and their combined service now manages the homecare requirements of the Barts Health NHS Trust in East London.

The company has already picked up £3.4 million through 4 equity fundraisings, with past investors including David Buttress, the CEO of Just Eat, and Thomas Zeltner, the former vice-chair of the World Health Organisation. It has also attended two accelerators - Digital.Health London in 2016, and PwC’s Future of Health in 2017.

On an interesting side note, Cera’s founder Dr Ben Marathappu attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boy’s School just a few years above Herman Narula, the CEO and founder of Improbable, a British VR unicorn that recently received $500 million from Japan’s SoftBank.

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App innovation

Other companies are looking to mobile apps to improve the healthcare system. Locum’s Nest is a great example - their app links doctors to temporary vacancies in the NHS, cutting out the expensive, cumbersome locum agencies that stirred up a bit of controversy earlier this year.

To this end they recently received £1.1 million from Albion Capital and IDO Investments, which they are currently using to help roll out their service nationwide.

Whilst Cera and Locum’s Nest are both still in their infancies, several other British health tech companies have progressed much further, both in terms of fundraisings and revenue. Push Doctor and babylon, two competitors, have developed apps that allow patients to receive consultations from qualified medical practitioners through online, Skype-like video calls. In the 3-4 years since they launched, both have got off to impressive starts, with babylon now officially partnered with the NHS (and being trialled across London).640_babylon-health-cropped copy.png

Manchester-based Push Doctor has won £30.3 million through 4 rounds of fundraising, whilst London’s babylon boasts nearly double this, with £64.1 million raised from just 2 rounds. The most recent ($60 million equity in April from Vostok New Ventures and the Sawiris family) gave them a valuation of nearly $200 million. In the 2015/16 financial year babylon more than tripled its turnover to £946k, and, at just over 3 years old, has already managed to turn a profit. That’s no mean feat for a young startup.

Both Cera and babylon are looking to develop greater AI capabilities for their respective services, in the hope that their apps will one day be able to offer patients full diagnoses without input from a human. In January, babylon won a trial with several London health authorities, whereby their early-stage AI chatbot would replace the NHS’s telephone helpline for non-emergency enquiries. As machine learning and artificial intelligence technology become more sophisticated, the scope for these platforms to cut costs in the NHS is considerable.


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Finally, another trend has the potential to transform the way healthcare is delivered can be seen through the growing number of companies looking to quantify their user’s biometrics. Perhaps the most famous example of this comes from an American company, 23andMe, which collects saliva samples from their customers for genomic analyses. The results are then collated on an online platform, which users can log in to view, revealing which diseases they are most predisposed to, and their carrier statuses for inherited conditions such as cystic fibrosis.

Similar companies are springing up in the UK. A great example is Thriva. Customers with this company are sent a finger prick blood test kit, which, once used, is returned to the Thriva labs for analysis. Users can then view data on general blood level health markers, such as cholesterol and insulin through an online dashboard, and repeat users can track how these markers change over time. The power of this tool in preventing and predicting illnesses among the population is considerable, and is likely to become more accurate as the technology develops.

Thriva is still very young. However, whilst it only launched in 2016, it has already attended 2 accelerators - Seedcamp and the New Entrepreneurs Foundation - and has received £1.65 million through two equity fundraisings (one announced, one unannounced):

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It will be interesting to see how their service takes off, and whether they reach the heights of 23andMe.

dna.pngFor another UK alternative to 23andMe, look to Atlas Biomed. This company offers a similar genetic testing kit, alongside a tool that catalogues the composition of their user’s gut microbiome. The latter provides a range of data markers that indicate the quality and balance of a person’s diet. Much like Thriva, the data is stored on an online dashboard, allowing users to track changes over time, and providing personalised informatics on what conditions users are susceptible to, and diet changes that can help. At just under a year old, the company has raised £1.5 million through an unannounced equity fundraising.

This is just a small selection of the health tech companies currently starting up throughout the UK. Other companies providing providing innovation within this space include FINDoC, Jupiter Diagnostics, iPLATO, and the London Doctors Clinic.

As time goes on, it seems there will be  plenty of options for the NHS to partner with innovative, high-growth British companies in order to improve the planning and provision of healthcare.

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*Transparency is important to us: Cera is backed financially by two of Beauhurst's own investors: Charlie Songhurst and Stephen Bence.

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