A South African health app has just won a R66 million contract to service Britain's NHS

Business Insider SA
Signapps CEO Andrew Davies. Photo Supplied.
  • A South African app has won a major UK tender to service Britain’s NHS.
  • Called Signapps, it aims to streamline communication in hospitals, and its deployment has been expedited by the spread of Covid-19.
  • In spite of extensive local funding and trials, SA’s Department of Health has not responded with similar vigour to the app.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider South Africa.

A South African healthcare app has won a R66 million contract to service the United Kingdom’s National Health Service for the next two years, with an option to renew for a further twelve months after that. But in spite of significant development funding from the Department of Trade and Industry, the app has yet to be widely deployed in local state hospitals.

The app, called Signapps, falls under SA healthtech startup Healthcent, which was established by ex-Mxit COO Andrew Davies in 2017. Signapps is essentially a secure messaging platform built for the healthcare industry - and the creators say it’s designed to increase operating efficiencies, generate additional revenue, and improve patient satisfaction by streamlining the referral and feedback processes, and engaging with patients and families.

Signapps. Photo Supplied.
Signapps. Photo Supplied.

It will now form part of Britain’s objective to phase out pagers in its healthcare system by the end of 2021 - and recent developments in relation to Covid-19 have accelerated the implementation of this.

According to the UK government plan, first published in February 2019, NHS trusts are required to phase out the use of pagers by the end of 2021, and “all hospitals will be expected to have plans and infrastructure in place to ensure this is possible by the end of September 2020”.

The spread of Covid-19 brought this due date forward by six weeks, and according to Signapps CEO Andrew Davies, the NHS awarded this early based, in part, on its successful trials in a South African context.

“The contract with the NHS is a major coup for us, as a South African company, proving that our product engineering teams can create products to compete with the very best internationally” says Davies.

It was launched in South Africa in 2017 in part thanks to a R5 million grant from The South African Department of Trade and Industry, and a R1 million grant from the Gauteng Innovation Hub.

“Signapps was originally borne out of a state hospital - Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg General. It was off the back of this success that the South African Government invested grant funding into Signapps in the early stages of its development. 

"This funding came at an important time for our business and we are grateful to the DTI and the Gauteng Innovation Hub who had the vision to see the potential positive impact of this technology for state hospitals, in particular, and back our team,” says Davies.

The app was tested in several other local contexts including Chris Hani Baragwanath Paediatric Burns Unit, stroke units within the Life Hospital group, and in the sub-acute care for the Intercare Group, and provided free of charge to South African government hospitals during Covid-19.

In spite of this initial backing, Davies says they have had little success with further rolling it out into South African state-owned hospitals.

“Over the last three years we have reached out on a few occasions to the National Department of Health to discuss the possibility of rolling this out into other hospitals, without success,” he says.

Because of this, Davies says they have shifted their focus to selling Signapps into the private healthcare sector, which he says “proved easier to commercialise and in which we have had considerable success locally".

In parallel they deployed Signapps into a number of state hospitals either on a pro bono basis or funding it from foundations or NGO’s.

“This culminated in us offering a free version of the product called Signapps Serve to state hospitals in February 2020, which has seen good uptake but with limitations around support and integrations,” says Davies.

Davies adds they are still actively seeking ways to deploy the app into more local hospitals - in particular, Covid-19 isolation wards.

“We believe our homegrown technology has the potential to be recognised as a major success story for South African innovation and to ultimately improve outcomes for all patients in South Africa by providing better linkages to care. This potential has been noted by Britain's NHS, and hence the reason it has contracted with us,” he says.

Signapps. Photo Supplied.
Signapps. Photo Supplied.

Davies believes that the contract with the NHS, and the proof of concept on the ground in South Africa, means the locally developed app can compete on a global scale.

“The award shows that our platform, already proven to be effective in South Africa, can stand up to international scrutiny and be selected for use in one of the world’s biggest national health systems,” he says.

Business Insider South Africa reached out to the Department of Health for comment on the matter, but has not yet received a response.

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