NHS gets National Artificial Intelligence Lab

Joanna Estrada
August 10, 2019

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) has announced plans to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory.

The lab will bring together the industry's top academics, specialists and technology companies to counter some of the biggest challenges in healthcare, the Department of Health (DoH) said earlier today, August 8.

A spokesperson for the department told LSIPR the funding will come directly from the treasury and will be available from the beginning of the 2020/2021 financial year.

The £250m project was announced today by prime minister Boris Johnson, who said that AI would transform care, cut waiting times and improve the detection of diseases by predicting who is most likely to get them.

The UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the AI lab "could transform patient experience by making the NHS a truly predictive, preventive and personalised health and care service". Such technology can also help to identifying which patients could be more easily treated in the community. Just 11% said they would trust the diagnosis of AI more, or just as much, as a doctor's diagnosis. AI innovations Among the innovations being considered are designing systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications, infections or those who would benefit from follow-up appointments with clinicians (each aimed at reducing hospital readmission rates).

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens described the investment as a step towards helping the NHS become a world leader in using these important technologies.

The new rounds of funding for the health service will be seen as an attempt by Johnson to make good on claims he made during the 2016 referendum that leaving the European Union would free up £350 million for the NHS - a pledge that has often been criticised as unrealistic.

Meanwhile, Matthew Honeyman - a researcher at The King's Fund think tank, commented that "many staff in the NHS now feel that IT makes their life harder, not easier".

He commented: "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". "It will also boost the frontline by automating admin tasks and freeing up staff to care for patients", he said.

Tim Ensor, the director of AI at Cambridge Consultants, said that while the NHS is perfectly placed to use AI to improve healthcare, it should not spend this money on developing their own AI algorithms. "By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights - empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of United Kingdom citizens".

"This money should be focused on enabling the NHS to provide equal access to its data for all credible UK-based researchers; ensuring that ethical, unbiased and high-quality services are developed based on this data; and developing the capability to roll-out the best AI applications across the entire NHS, in order to achieve the true benefits of its scale for both patients and practitioners".

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