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The UK is experiencing unprecedented challenges – whether it be austerity, lack of productivity or availability of skills and talent. The nation is still recovering from the impact of the pandemic, while the public sector is also coping with staff shortages and industrial action, applying considerable pressure on our health and social care services.

These conditions have stretched the NHS. But this presents the perfect opportunity to take action – action I believe requires the innovation and expertise we’ve seen growing and developing across our tech and startup ecosystem.

The UK has built a formidable startup economy over the past decade, with figures published by the government’s Digital Economy and Dealroom showing an incredible £11.3bn was invested into UK tech companies in 2020 in comparison with the £1.2bn invested in 2010.

The newly-released Start-up, scale-up report from the Labour Party underscores the power of the UK startup economy – shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves declared: “Innovation is a great British strength” – and shares a set of compelling recommendations on how to grow it further.

It serves as further proof of why now is the time for many of these burgeoning companies to create a lane for themselves by introducing technology-driven products and services across areas of the public sector that need it most – starting with health.

Health tech innovation

We should be proud of the health tech sector operating in the UK today. The UK health tech industry employs over 146,000 people at more than 4,000 companies, with a combined turnover of £30bn. Impressive innovations, such as unlocking patient data whilst respecting privacy, robotic surgery and remote diagnosis, are all readily available to be deployed.

For example, NHS Wales launched a partnership with CMR Surgical earlier this year, introducing the world’s first national robotic surgery programme, with hopes of benefitting over 1,300 patients – showing the real-life impact of cutting-edge technology to transform NHS.

These are the types of tech solutions that can solve the thorny challenges that have plagued healthcare systems across the UK, but also EMEA, for some time – and it often just requires faith and trust in the entrepreneurs that target all their expertise towards solving a problem.

It’s clear that startups have the means to step up and help revive the wellbeing of the health sector, so it’s important that the public and private sectors commit to working together to embrace these methods in order to deliver better patient care.

The most effective way to do so is through collaboration between organisations of all designs – small and large, local and global and beyond – who share the same goals of transforming healthcare using science and technology. Only then can we effectively tackle the staffing, recruiting and training challenges facing our healthcare system.

Unlocking the potential of startups

Closing the gap between public and private is a key part of the equation and it’s a challenge we at Plexal have taken head-on.

Our work on the Amazon Web Services Healthcare Accelerator, for example, will deliver training and support to innovative startups that can play a vital role in alleviating the strains on healthcare providers like the NHS and others overseas, because this is a global issue. No matter whether the startup is healthcare-specific, it could well have the design required to act as a cure – and this is how we can join forces to create a positive impact across Europe, the Middle East and Africa alike.

The UK tech sector is now well established and increasingly mature and it’s time we put trust in the new companies on the frontline of healthcare and innovation to help evolve our public services.

Evidently, there’s appetite for change, as evidenced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak who wants to “radically innovate” the NHS. “If we can get that right with more robotics and automation, then we can drive up productivity. It reduces some of the pressure on labour, and creates good jobs for people,” he said.

So, while there’s no doubt that we’ve seen some positive developments in the future of healthcare, more can be done to make real and impactful change.

The proper deployment of technology in healthcare can aid real problems facing the system – including waiting list management, sharing of patient information and appointment bookings – all of which cause massive inefficiency and cost the NHS billions.

For founders to access large organisations and present a business case, no matter how compelling, there are often plenty of vetting processes and different stakeholders to navigate, which can be a barrier to entry on both sides before conversations even begin. It’s time we collectively recognise the need to put our startup economy to work, unlock the full potential of the budding entrepreneurs looking to make a difference and plug in innovative solutions to areas of public services that need them most.

The future of our NHS depends on it and, in turn, so do we all.

Andrew Roughan is the CEO of innovation company Plexal