July 8, 2020

January 6, 2022

TechForce 19: The UK’s Flagship COVID-19 technology accelerator

Partnering with the Department for Health & Social Care and NHSX to launch the UK’s flagship COVID-19 challenge programme as a tool for rapidly scaling new technologies which could help address key priorities during the health crisis

Open Innovation Programmes


At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, PUBLIC partnered with DHSC, NHSX - the digital arm of the UK National Healthcare System - and AHSN to launch TechForce19 as a challenge programme aimed at rapidly scaling new technology solutions that could add transformational value to key health priorities during the crisis, including:  enabling remote social care to vulnerable citizens that were isolating; optimising staffing in care and volunteering sectors; facilitating digital delivery for mental health services and the self-management of non-urgent mental health treatment.


We led the design and management of the innovation challenge programme to bring feasible solutions ready for procurement and scaling to the NHS to address the need for remote care, adapting our methodology to achieve a rapid 6-week delivery window.

TechForce19 used our proprietary challenge methodology, using phased approach to operating public innovation missions:  challenge definition; open calls for technology providers;  selection and due-diligence; pilots and implementation and recommendations for scale.

We stood up a major communications campaign and applications process, drawing in over 1600 applications of novel technologies to the challenge areas.  We appraised digital health and care solutions’ value and capability and orchestrated a multi-stakeholder selection process with 40+ assessors to review the technical feasibility, solution credibility and public sector compliance of all applicants, shortlisting 53 providers and selecting the 18 best solutions to progress to pilots and trials.  Selected startups included Birdie, providing a digital platform for home care agencies to better manage the care they provide; Virti, a virtual and augmented reality solution using its immersive training platform to upskill the NHS workforce in order to tackle COVID-19; and Vinehealth, a mobile app to support cancer patients and their loved ones during treatment by allowing them to easily track and understand their care, including their symptoms, side effects, appointments and medications.


Our programme created one of the broadest and most insightful overviews of the digital health and care ecosystem and supported the 18 successful digital health and care companies delivering test contracts with local councils and health authorities. Working closely with NHSX commercial teams, our commercial team designed compliant procurement routes to scale the successful solutions at the end of the piloting phase, introducing a first-of-its-kind rapid scouting and procurement process that enabled the testing and adoption of new technology faster than any NHS programme previously, during an unprecedented moment of stretch and change.

"TechForce19 was an enormously impressive piece of work that led to an accelerated engagement with tech innovators, and resulted in a significant and palpable improvement in the way the healthcare system has been able to support vulnerable and isolated people during the pandemic. None of this would have been remotely possible without the PUBLIC team, who worked long hours in a stressful period, and with good humour and professionalism throughout." -David Howie, Chief Commercial Officer, NHSX

"The TechForce19 challenge has harnessed some of the incredible talent we have in our tech sector, to help the most vulnerable and many of the problems created by isolation lend themselves to digital solutions." -Iain O’ Neil, Digital Transformation Director, NHSX


Photo by the author

Chiara Carlini

Deputy Director of Startup & Challenge Programmes

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