The United Kingdom's lack of telemedicine-specific legislation can create difficulties for digital health providers seeking to ensure compliance with the law. COVID-19 has increased the number of remote services provided both by private providers and the National Health Service ("NHS"), the United Kingdom's largest customer for health care products. Many of these services fall within the NHS's digital care transformation division, NHSX, as part of its long-term plan and digital transformation strategy. This is thought to be the world's largest digital health care transformation scheme, with national investment of more than £1 billion. NHSX has taken a leading role in much of the COVID-19 response, including its involvement in a 48-hour tender evaluation process for a £12.6 procurement for online consultation technologies to support the wholesale move of general practitioners (and the vast majority of wider primary health care) to virtual consultations. NHSX was also involved in the aborted development of a national contact tracing app (based on a centralized model) in favor of the more well-established path of a decentralized model in partnership with Apple and Google.
While the UK system for reimbursement of health care products remains far from streamlined, in 2019, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence ("NICE") launched HealthTech Connect. This database enables innovators to submit details of their technology to a number of governmental and quasi-governmental bodies to review and offer support. The NICE carry out appraisals of such submitted health technologies for potential use by the NHS on a national basis in England. Furthermore, other bodies, such as the Department for International Trade, offer export and import advice for technologies submitted to HealthTech Connect.
While COVID-19 has clearly accelerated the United Kingdom's move toward an increasingly digital health care service, telemedicine in the United Kingfom is not a new phenomenon. Current initiatives are building on previous efforts to accelerate innovation in the NHS (often as part of cost-saving exercises). In 2015, the NHS launched the "Innovation Accelerator," a support program for impactful innovations across NHS England, including tele-health initiatives. The program has raised more than £150 million in external funding and provides mentoring to developers seeking to scale up and implement their innovations for the NHS. The program has supported a number of digital technology and AI initiatives in the United Kingdom (e.g., MediShout).