Facebook will provide free Portal devices to UK hospitals and care homes

The video calling gear will help patients stay in touch during COVID-19.

Nicole Lee/Engadget

Facebook’s support for the fight against COVID-19 now includes a simple but important addition: keeping people in touch. It’s partnering with the UK’s National Health Service to offer up to 2,050 free Portal video calling devices to the country’s hospitals, care homes, hospices and other medical settings. The hardware will help patients contact friends and family at a time when they can’t see each other in person.

About 50 Portals are already in use at pilot locations in Surrey, with London, Manchester and Newcastle cities coming soon. Wired shared leaked details on April 6th. While this will initially be useful only to locations with sufficient WiFi connections, the NHS is looking at options like LTE hotspots and cellular-equipped tablets to enable chats in areas where WiFi isn’t an option.

The project will only cover a small slice of the NHS’ facilities, and there’s no doubt that this could serve as a way to market Portal to would-be customers. At the same time, it may also help the healthcare industry evaluate the impact of video chats on patients’ wellbeing. The NHS’ digital division, NHSX, also believes video calling like this could help staff work remotely when possible, improve communication between teams and move both consultations and outpatient check-ups to video chats.