BT looking to expand into healthcare amidst cutbacks

The CEO of telecommunications giant BT, Philip Jansen, recently expressed an interest in expanding the company more into healthcare. The news comes with the company facing an imminent, controversial restructure that will see 90% of its buildings close, a move that could potentially result in thousands of redundancies. 

BT, which is the world’s oldest telecoms company, already has strong links to the healthcare sector, with an entire division of BT Business dedicated to public sector health. It is already partnered with NHS Blood and Transplant services and recently supported the NHS in its fight against COVID-19, providing some of the digital infrastructure in the pop-up Nightingale Hospitals as well as testing and vaccination centres across the UK.

Nevertheless, Jansen credits his increased interest in diversifying on the shock the pandemic had on healthcare services without sufficient digital infrastructure. “What we need to do is find a way where there is accelerated take-up of some of these [digital health] technologies to get the benefits that are so obviously there,” he said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

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This could see the telecoms giant expanding into hardware as well as the more predictable areas of connectivity and IoT. In December 2020, the company led a consortium in favour of a Government-sanctioned “drone corridor” that would be used for fast medical-supply deliveries and to aid emergency responders. 

WHY IT MATTERS

In spite of Jansen’s optimism for the company’s future, BT is in a difficult spot financially. In the last five years, its stock price has fallen by more than two thirds, from £4.30 to £1.29. As such, there has been discussion around selling a stake in Openreach, the division of BT that maintains its telephone cables, masts, ducts and exchanges. Because of the increase in internet and phone usage during the pandemic, Openreach, which also supplies BT competitors Sky and TalkTalk, is currently worth up to £20bn.

Because it is so valuable, Jansen insists that it will be able to fund the planned expansion of its super-fast broadband to 20 million homes. Jansen also believes that focus should not be on the potential stake sale, saying: “I think we should be allowed to get on with it. Connectivity has never been more important. It will provide the catalyst to a whole host of new applications and services and products that we don’t even know about yet.”

THE LARGER PICTURE

BT are not the only telecommunications who are getting more involved in the health sector. Vodafone released a report in November 2020 outlining how 5G and IoT could transform UK healthcare, including an increase in drone-usage and 5G technologies. This sentiment has also been echoed by AT&T Business in the US, who in April spoke to HIMSS Digital about the potential benefit of 5G on day-to-day health behaviours.

ON THE RECORD

Charles Alessi, chief clinical officer at HIMSS, commented exclusively on the news to Healthcare IT News: “It is no surprise to hear about BT’s interest in engaging in the world of health and care. In fact it would be surprising had there been no interest. The new shape of health and care is one where people are engaged and involved in their own health, actively making choices to reduce their risks of symptoms associated with non-communicable diseases like diabetes. Given that mobile connectivity is driving a significant amount of interactions, it is the place where transfers of data are increasing and companies which hitherto were based on fixed line telephony are all looking at this space as a place where they can innovate and partner. BT are joining the rest of the telecommunications sector in doing this.”

Speaking about BT’s recent contributions to the UK healthcare sector, Rob Shuter, CEO of BT’s Enterprise business, said: “We’re tremendously proud to have played such an active role in getting the NHS vaccination centres across England and Wales up and running. As a critical enabler for the country, we know how vital high-speed, reliable and secure connectivity is for the smooth running of our essential public services, and that’s never been more important. We’ll continue to prioritise urgent work for the NHS to help their incredible front-line staff to save lives and protect the public.”

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