UK government pledges £250m AI fund for NHS to lead “health tech revolution”
The UK has announced a £250 million investment for a National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab for the National Health Service (NHS), as the healthcare sector is poised for a “huge health tech revolution”, according to the new UK government.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “experts” consider the UK to be in position to lead this technology revolution in healthcare. “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,” he said, citing AI and genomics as fields for UK innovation.
The National AI Lab will bring together health professionals, academics and tech companies to develop new AI tools to improve healthcare. Its focus will be to use AI techniques to improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, and identify patients most at risk of diseases such as heart disease or dementia, allowing for earlier diagnosis and cheaper prevention, the government said.
It will also seek to use use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices or surgeries, and identify patients that could be more easily treated in the community, reducing the pressure on hospitals. The fund will also go to “build systems” to detect people at risk of post-operative complications and reduce readmission rates.
Funding will go on automating routine admin tasks and training NHS staff to be able to use AI systems for day-to-day tasks.
The facility will sit within NHSX, the new organisation that will oversee the digitisation of the health and care system, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative. The investment will support the NHS’s so-called Long Term Plan, which includes pledges to use AI to help clinicians “eliminate variations in care”.
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, multi-million pound cash injection are felt by all. It’s part of our mission to make the NHS the best it can be.”
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “Carefully targeted AI is now ready for practical application in health services, and the investment announced today is another step in the right direction to help the NHS become a world leader in using these important technologies.
“In the first instance it should help personalise NHS screening and treatments for cancer, eye disease and a range of other conditions, as well as freeing up staff time, and our new NHS AI Lab will ensure the benefits of NHS data and innovation are fully harnessed for patients in this country.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has already pledged £1.8 billion of funding to the NHS since taking charge at the end of July, as part of a broad-ranging splash on public services, commented: “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.