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NHS to invest £250m in new AI Lab - “AI now ready for health services”

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez August 8, 2019
The AI Lab will sit within the new digital central unit for the national health service - NHSX.

Doctor working with modern digital healthcare interface © everything possible - shutterstock

The National Health Service (NHS) is benefiting from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit splash the cash tour, as he announced today that £250 million will be spent on a new NHS AI Lab. 

The Lab will sit within the newly formed central digital unit for the NHS - NHSX - which has been given a mandate to overhaul technology use across the health service. 

The Lab will aim to bring together the industry’s best AI academics, specialists and technology companies to work on “some of the biggest challenges in health and care”. 

The investment forms part of the government’s NHS Long Term Plan, which includes pledges to use AI to help clinicians eliminate variations in care. 

The Prime Minister said: 

The NHS is revered for the world-class care it provides every day – a treasured institution that showcases the very best of Britain.

But it is also leading the way in harnessing new technology to treat and prevent, from earlier cancer detection to spotting the deadly signs of dementia.

Today’s funding is not just about the future of care though. It will also boost the frontline by automating admin tasks and freeing up staff to care for patients.

My task is to ensure the NHS has the funding it needs to make a real difference to the lives of staff and patients. Transforming care through artificial intelligence is a perfect illustration of that.

Use cases

The Department of Health and Social Care highlighted some areas that the AI Lab could focus on, which include: 

  • improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, including mammograms, brain scans, eye scans and heart monitoring
  • use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices or surgeries
  • identify which patients could be more easily treated in the community, reducing the pressure on the NHS and helping patients receive treatment closer to home
  • identify patients most at risk of diseases such as heart disease or dementia, allowing for earlier diagnosis and cheaper, more focused, personalised prevention
  • build systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications, infections or requiring follow-up from clinicians, improving patient safety and reducing readmission rates
  • upskill the NHS workforce so they can use AI systems for day-to-day tasks
  • inspect algorithms already used by the NHS to increase the standards of AI safety, making systems fairer, more robust and ensuring patient confidentiality is protected
  • automate routine admin tasks to free up clinicians so more time can be spent with patients

Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive, said that “carefully targeted AI is now ready for practical application in health services”. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

We are on the cusp of a huge health tech revolution that could transform patient experience by making the NHS a truly predictive, preventive and personalised health and care service.

I am determined to bring the benefits of technology to patients and staff, so the impact of our NHS Long Term Plan and this immediate, multimillion pound cash injection are felt by all. It’s part of our mission to make the NHS the best it can be.

The experts tell us that because of our NHS and our tech talent, the UK could be the world leader in these advances in healthcare, so I’m determined to give the NHS the chance to be the world leader in saving lives through artificial intelligence and genomics.

The Health Secretary’s praise for the AI Lab is perhaps unsurprising, give that he recently put his name to a report written by the ethically dubious Taxpayers’ Alliance entitled ‘Automate the State’. 

It’s also worth noting that earlier this year Health Education England, on behalf of the NHS, published an independent review into the health service’s digital future, which highlighted the need for a “binding code of conduct” for NHS staff implementing AI. 

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