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Hancock trumpets £250m fund for AI in the health service

Ties in with NHS long-term plan

NHS

The government has announced another block of funding for the NHS, this time a £250m pot to increase the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to support healthcare and research.

The money will go towards setting up a national AI lab that will operate as part of NHSX, the department overseeing the digitisation of health services in the UK.

Eventually, AI will be used for a range of applications, such as cancer screening, gauging the future need for beds, drugs or medical devices, identifying patients who could be treated better in the community, and automating routine admin tasks “so clinicians can spend more time with patients”, according to the Department of Health.

matt Hancock

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary

“I want [the NHS] to be the best it possibly can be, and to do that we’ve got to harness the very best technology to make sure that we deliver care in the best way possible,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

“I want our AI lab to generate cutting-edge technology to diagnose illnesses like sepsis, stroke and heart attacks before symptoms appear,” he added. The intention is also to use genomic testing to find the diseases to which people are susceptible, so that preventive measures can be taken to help people stay healthier for longer.

To that end, 5 million people in the UK are to be offered a free personalised report based on their genetic profile, says the Financial Times. That ties in with the NHS long-term plan released earlier this year that highlighted a shift towards prevention and wellness in the health service.

It comes after a £1.8bn cash injection pledge from Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week for capital investments in NHS hospitals.

Bo Jo

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Johnson said the NHS is “leading the way in harnessing new technology to treat and prevent, from earlier cancer detection to spotting the deadly signs of dementia”, adding that the new 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”.

The investment has been cautiously welcomed by health experts, although the independent Health Foundation charity warned that “technology needs to be driven by patient need and not just for technology's sake”.

The charity’s director of data analytics, Adam Steventon, said that like any technology AI should undergo “robust evaluation” before being widely implemented.

“The proposed AI lab is a welcome investment in NHS analytics, and there is scope for this to support analytics rights across the health system,” he added.

“However, given the questions raised about other funding announcements this week, we will need to ensure there's clarity on where this money will come from and whether there may need to be trade-offs.”

Health Foundation notes there is still a £6bn maintenance backlog for supporting basic infrastructure in the NHS, half of which is deemed high or significant risk. Moreover, with a shortfall of 100,000 staff, the NHS will “struggle to sustain current services, let alone take advantage of the benefits of new technology”.

Meanwhile, Matthew Honeyman – a researcher at The King’s Fund think tank, commented that “many staff in the NHS currently feel that IT makes their life harder, not easier”.

He went on: “Rolling out new technologies like AI will require standards to ensure patient safety, a workforce equipped with digital skills, and an upgrade to outdated basic NHS tech infrastructure.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

8th August 2019

From: Healthcare

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