How UK startups used their AI smarts to support govt fight COVID-19

Faculty Image credits: Faculty

For years, artificial intelligence (AI) has seemed to be the buzzword and yet there was something amiss. It had been on the cusp of becoming the next big thing in technology. However, reality never matched the hype. Until now.

The story changed as the deadly first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK in March 2020. The pandemic has now completely altered the story and accelerated the need for AI. Lockdowns have impacted consumer behaviour in ways that have spurred AI’s growth and development leaps and bounds.

Enter startups in the UK. With greater computing power, better business insights and cost efficiencies from AI which of course, is too big to ignore, these companies have stepped up to support the UK government to battle out Covid-19 with advances in AI. Catalysed by the crisis, these good Samaritan startups have risen to the cause. Their technologies are being deployed in areas from research to healthcare and even agriculture.

What patients want


Founded by Angie Ma, Marc Warner, Andrey Brookes in 2014, London AI startup Faculty partnered with NHS England & NHS Improvement to make better predictions for patients’ requirements. In a bid to help enhance NHS AI forecasting and predicting capabilities, it put learnings from COVID-19 data response into practice across the NHS. This will help improve services as well as care delivery for patients.

As part of the data response to the pandemic, Faculty is working with the NHS to develop the Early Warning System (EWS). This first-of-its-kind AI tool uses aggregate data such as COVID-19 positive case numbers, 111 calls, and mobility data to warn hospitals about potential spikes in cases so they can divert staff, beds, and vital equipment needed.

Boosting agriculture

Mantle Labs

Southampton-based agritech startup Mantle Labs is helping the UK government to avoid any disruption to the food supply chain and food processors. It is offering cutting-edge AI-driven crop-monitoring solution to retailers free of charge for a period of three months to provide additional resiliency and certainty to supply chains in the UK.

The platform is deploying custom machine learning models to mix imagery from multiple satellites, enabling a near real-time assessment of agricultural conditions. It works to assess satellite images of crops to flag potential issues to farmers and retailers early on so they can better manage supply, procurement and inventory planning.

Speeding up research and treatment


London-based firm BenevolentAI has turned its platform toward understanding the body’s response to the Covid-19 virus. Using AI to help derive contextual relationships between genes, diseases and drugs, the startup found that Baricitinib (a drug currently approved for rheumatoid arthritis, owned by Eli Lilly) proved the strongest candidate. The speed with which the drug has now entered clinical trials showcases the urgency of this pandemic and the importance of AI in facilitating the discovery of new treatments.

Staffing woes, not anymore


The UK health and care workforce has witnessed immense strain in the last one year. The culmination of years of pressure, combined with the intense stresses generated by COVID-19, created unsustainable working realities. As a recent NHS Staff Survey highlighted, scores are at breaking point; with one in five considering leaving the sector for good.

Founded by healthcare workers and managers who have personally experienced the pressures of temporary staffing issues, Patchwork, has unveiled ‘Outcomes-Based Staffing’ – the paradigm shift set to transform healthcare staffing. It has now launched a new rostering solution for the NHS. The startup has made its system free for all NHS Trusts for the next four months to battle the crisis. It currently has an existing partnership with the NHS, offering its tech-enabled staff bank service, a wide network of locum clinician who use the app to connect with staff banks directly, and a partnership with the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to reach over 75,000 clinicians.

The push of pandemic


London-based healthcare tech startup, Medopad, recently rebranded as Huma, has now modified their remote patient monitoring platform to specialise in COVID-19, and is making its technology available to all NHS Trusts. Designed to help monitor ill and at-risk patients, the specialised platform enables healthcare workers to track patient data and symptoms progression, and flag patients with worsening symptoms, both in and out of clinical settings. Patients can use a corresponding app to securely share personal health data such as temperature, respiration rate and heart rate.

During the pandemic, the company’s solution now allows hospitals to continuously monitor and engage with their existing patients remotely, without exposing them to elevated risks of COVID-19. Along with its global partners such as John Hopkins, the company is working on clinically validating digital biomarkers to identify individual risk for COVID-19, and to monitor respiratory symptoms and progression.