The UK government has pledged £250 million towards the research and implementation of AI technology throughout the health service.
The funding will be used to create a national artificial intelligence laboratory that will be tasked with bringing healthcare workers and industry together to produce AI-based healthcare services.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock commented in a release that: “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.”
The AI lab will aim to improve cancer screening by speeding up the testing of results and will also be tasked with identifying patients that are most at risk from heart disease.
The lab will also try to drive down costs in the NHS by creating predictive models that can better estimated the level of resources needed across the NHS such as beds and drugs.
Part of the labs responsibilities will be the upskilling of current NHS staff so that they are familiar with the emerging technologies.
Dr Simon Wallace, Chief clinical information officer at Nuance Communications commented to Computer Business Review in an emailed statement that: “This move – as part of additional investment in artificial intelligence from the NHS – is another step towards using disruptive technology to enhance patient care, by helping clinicians to focus on the most important cases and reduce the growing burdens of admin.
“AI is already supporting clinicians across NHS trusts, such as Homerton – which has deployed AI-enabled speech recognition to cut the turnaround time on clinical letters to patients following consultations. Reducing this turnaround time from 12-17 days to two – three – and at a saving of more than £150,000 per year in outsourced transcription costs – the Trust has benefited significantly from deploying such tech.
National Artificial Intelligence Lab
Last year the Department of Health published an AI code of conduct which contained ten principles that outline how the NHS should work with tech firms. The guidance came as enterprise interest grows in NHS data (a number of partnerships involving machine learning and NHS data are under way, many of them unpublicised), and also highlighted its commercial value.
“Technology providers derive significant value from the NHS beyond access to unique data sets – through medical and clinical involvement, test beds and pilots – and this value should be captured within the commercial arrangement,” the code notes.
The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee is among those to have urged the government to “realise more value” tied up in restricted public data sets, including those of the NHS, and hold them in such data trusts; including by demanding more from the companies granted access to it for research and development purposes.
The Committee’s May 2018 report, “Algorithms in decision-making”, noted: “The Government could… negotiate for the improved public service delivery it seeks from the arrangements and for transparency, and not simply accept what the developers offer in return for data access…”
Mark Frankish, Data Scientist, SAS UK & Ireland told Computer Business Review that AI Lab is the right approach as the NHS currently spends ten times more money on treating disease than prevention – £97bn of public money versus £8bn trying to prevent it. However, he notes that: “Public sector technology projects have a patchy record – not least in the NHS. This makes it all the more important that the health service learns the lessons from similar AI and ML applications in the private sector.”
“Investing in a secure organisational foundation to facilitate AI implementation must therefore be a priority if the NHS is to reap the benefits. Employing a centralised system where all data, including from outside the organisation, can be accessed by every clinician, administrator and application, will greatly facilitate advances in predictive diagnostics and forecasting abilities, enabling the NHS to derive maximum value from its data and, ultimately, save more lives.”