Facebook provides NHS with Portal video chat devices to help care home residents

By Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter
·2-min read

Facebook is providing more than 2,000 of its Portal video call devices to care home residents and patients to help them connect with loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic.

The social networking giant will supply a total of 2,050 units to hospitals, care homes and other settings including hospices, in-patient learning disability and autism units, for free.

It is hoped the technology could help ease loneliness, with those most at-risk instructed to stay home early on in the fight against Covid-19.

“Technology companies big and small continue to pledge their resources and expertise to support our NHS and social care system in these unprecedented times,” said Iain O’Neil, digital transformation director at NHSX.

Facebook
50 Portal devices have already been given to pilot sites in Surrey, with Manchester, Newcastle, London, Essex and other areas to follow (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“We are working hard to find and develop services that meet people’s equally unprecedented needs.

“Technology has never been so important to providing one of life’s most essential things – the ability to communicate with the people we love regardless of where they are.”

Facebook has already supplied 50 Portal devices to pilot sites in Surrey, with Manchester, Newcastle, London, Essex and other areas to follow this week, with support from Accenture.

“Social distancing is tough on us all, and we must remember how beneficial interaction with loved ones is for our wellbeing,” said Helen Whately, Minister for Care.

NHSX says specific care settings will be selected on the basis of their WiFi connectivity and ability to run devices in residents’ rooms or another private location.

It is also exploring connectivity options for care homes without WiFi, such as using 4G hotspots or data-enabled tablets.

“With the global pandemic and social distancing measures, the ability to stay connected is more important than ever,” said Freddy Abnousi, head of health technology at Facebook.

“That’s why we are piloting a programme with NHSX to provide Portal devices in hospitals and other care settings to support patients and help reduce social isolation.”

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “It is great to see Facebook giving care home residents and patients the devices they need to connect with their family and friends at such a challenging time.

“The technology sector is rising to the challenge at this moment of national emergency and we in government are working closely with them to help people stay home, protect the NHS and save lives.”