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The United Kingdom’s National Health Service or NHS will invest just over $300 million in an artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory in an effort to boost early cancer detection and find new treatments for dementia.
The U.K. government announced that the lab will sit within NHSX, a new organization that will oversee the digitization of the health and care system, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative.
With the new AI Lab, the NHS hopes to bring together the industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies to work on some of the biggest challenges in health and care, a statement said.
Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive, said the funding will help NHS become a world leader in using AI.
“In the first instance, it should help personalize 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,” Stevens said.
Among many other issues, the U.K. government hopes the AI Lab, which will start receiving the funding in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, will help improve improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, including mammograms, brain scans, eye scans and heart monitoring. The lab is expected to use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices or surgeries and to 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.
It is envisaged that the AI Lab should be able to identify patients most at risk of diseases such as heart disease or dementia, allowing for earlier diagnosis and cheaper, more focused, personalized prevention. It will also facilitate the building of systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications or infections and those who are more likely to require follow-up from clinicians, thereby improving patient safety and reducing readmission rates.
In addition, the lab should help upskill the NHS workforce so they can use AI systems for day-to-day tasks and to help automate routine administrative duties in order to free up clinicians so more time can be spent with patients. The systems could also be used for inspection of algorithms already used by the NHS to increase the standards of AI safety, thus making systems fairer and more robust while ensuring patient confidentiality is protected.
The NHS has embarked on a digitization program and has come up with a long term plan. One of the objectives of the plan is to use AI to help clinicians improve health delivery.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that, with the funding, the NHS was leading the way in “harnessing new technology to treat and prevent, from earlier cancer detection to spotting the deadly signs of dementia.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the U.K. was on the cusp of a huge health tech revolution that could transform patient experience ‘by making the NHS a truly predictive, preventive and personalized 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.”
There is cautious optimism that the new effort to digitize healthcare in the UK will work. The previous plan ended in failure and had to be canceled by the government in 2011. The project, which had an initial budget of about $7.7 billion, had cost more than $12 billion when it was shelved.
Adam Steventon, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation think-tank, advised that there was need for “robust evaluation” in the way technology was deployed at the NHS adding that “technology needs to be driven by patient need and not just for technology’s sake.”
The healthcare industry is increasingly adopting AI, which promises an amazing future for the sector.
You can read our guide to AI here.