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Facebook supplies UK's NHS with 2,000 Portal devices to connect isolated patients

The National Health Service's digital innovation arm is distributing the video-calling devices throughout hospitals and care homes.

A Facebook Portal device.
James Martin/CNET
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Facebook has supplied the UK's National Health Service with 2,050 of its Portal devices to help connect some of the country's most vulnerable patients during the coronavirus outbreak.

NHSX, the digital innovation arm of the NHS, announced on Thursday that the devices were being distributed free to hospitals, care homes and other settings including hospices and in-patient learning disability and autism units, following a trial. They're being given to some of the most isolated people in the UK, to help them keep in touch with loved ones who'll be unable to visit them during the current public health crisis. 

"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," NHSX Digital Transformation Director Iain O'Neil said in a statement.

The coronavirus has been found to pose a substantially increased threat to older members of the population, as well as those with existing health conditions. So far, almost 8,000 people in the UK have died in hospital after contracting COVID-19.

"We designed Portal to give people an easy way to connect and be more present with their loved ones," Facebook Head of Health Technology Freddy Abnousi said in a statement. "With the global pandemic and social distancing measures, the ability to stay connected is more important than ever."

Facebook first announced Portal, a lineup of smart screen devices, in 2018. Their primary function is to serve as video calling devices, which they do well, although they have occasionally been criticized for privacy reasons.