National artificial intelligence lab to be established

The government has announced a third funding stream for the NHS in as many days with a pledge by Prime Minister Boris Johnson of £250 million to be invested in artificial intelligence.

Having promised £1.8 billion towards the maintenance and rebuilding of crumbling hospitals, as well as agreeing to fix the doctor’s pension tax, Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock say that the £250 million will be spent on boosting the role of AI within the health service, ‘boosting the frontline by automating admin tasks and freeing up staff to care for patients’, as well as advancing care.

Tech enthusiast Hancock says that AI has ‘enormous power’ to improve care, save lives and ensure doctors had more time to spend with patients.

The AI Lab’s work could: improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, including mammograms, brain scans, eye scans and heart monitoring; use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices or surgeries; 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; build systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications, infections or requiring follow-up from clinicians, improving patient safety and reducing readmission rates; upskill the NHS workforce so they can use AI systems for day-to-day tasks; and automate routine admin tasks to free up clinicians so more time can be spent with patients.

Boris Johnson said: "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."

Hancock added: "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, multimillion pound cash injection are felt by all. It’s part of our mission to make the NHS the best it can be. 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, so I’m determined to give the NHS the chance to be the world leader in saving lives through artificial intelligence and genomics."

Adam Steventon, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation thinktank, said: “Technology needs to be driven by patient need and not just for technology’s sake. Robust evaluation therefore needs to be at the heart of any drive towards greater use of technology in the NHS, so that technologies shown to be effective can be spread further and patients protected from any potential harm.”