Artificial intelligence will be rolled out more widely across the NHS to speed up diagnosis and treatment times and reduce waiting lists.
Steve Barclay has launched a new £21 million pot that hospitals can use to implement AI tools for things like medical imaging and decision-making.
It includes tools that analyze chest X-rays when lung cancer is suspected, reducing the burden on staff.
AI technology capable of diagnosing strokes will also be made available to all stroke networks by the end of this year, allowing patients to be treated more quickly, reducing their risk of disability.
The Department of Health and Social Care hopes the technology will also help reduce NHS winter waiting lists, with 7.4 million people currently waiting for non-urgent care.
Steve Barclay has launched a new £21 million pot for hospitals to use to implement AI tools for things like medical imaging and decision making
It includes tools that analyze chest X-rays for suspected lung cancer, reducing the burden on staff
Hospitals are encouraged to submit funding bids for any AI diagnostic tool, though the DHSC said they will have to “provide value for money to approve funding.”
The government has so far invested £123 million in 86 AI technologies.
Mr Barclay, the Minister for Health, said: ‘I am focused on applying the latest cutting-edge technology in our health and care system to ensure
we can continue to offer our patients the best care and shorten waiting times, that is one of the government’s five priorities.’
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director at NHS England, said: ‘The NHS is already leveraging the benefits of AI across the country to catch and treat major illnesses earlier, and better manage waiting lists, enabling patients to being seen.
“As we approach our 75-year milestone, this is another example of how the NHS continues its proud history of applying the latest proven technology to deliver better care for patients and greater value for the taxpayer.”
Dr. Katharine Halliday, President of the Royal College of Radiologists, said embracing innovation is ‘critical’.
She added: “At a time when diagnostics services are under pressure, it is critical that we embrace innovation that can increase capacity – which is why we welcome the Government’s announcement of a £21 million fund to support AI- purchase and deploy diagnostic tools.
‘All doctors want to give patients the best possible care. This starts with timely diagnosis and, crucially, catching diseases as early as possible.
“There is tremendous promise in AI, which could save clinicians time by maximizing our efficiency, aiding our decision-making, and helping identify and prioritize the most urgent cases.
“Together with highly trained and expert radiologists, AI will undoubtedly play a significant role in the future of diagnostics.”
The funding package comes after NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard said further applications for AI in healthcare are on the way.
In a keynote speech, she told delegates at the 2023 NHS ConfedExpo conference in Manchester: “As a national health service, we are in an excellent position to make this technology available quickly.
“And thanks to our national commercial strength, we are well placed to get the best deal for the taxpayer.”
Debates about how advances in AI should be regulated are ongoing.
Earlier in June, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a visit to the US said he wanted to avoid a “scare-mongering” discourse around the technology, but acknowledged that it could pose the same risks as nuclear war and pandemics if not properly controlled .
Days earlier, Secretary of Technology and Digital Economy Paul Scully pushed to shift the focus of the conversation from a “Terminator-esque scenario” to the potential utility of AI, particularly in healthcare.
The government recently launched the AI & Digital Regulation Service to help NHS staff find information and guidance on how to deploy AI safely.
Rory Deighton, director of the acute network at the NHS Confederation, representing healthcare organisations, said: ‘We know the NHS is making progress in reducing waiting lists, recovering from the pandemic and the brutal winter that has just ended.
‘Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform prevention and increase early detection, as well as the treatment of disease, so leaders will greatly welcome this funding boost to roll out artificial intelligence across the NHS, helping to accelerate the work already underway to reduce waiting lists.
“Leaders will know, however, that to really take advantage of the opportunities AI can bring, we need to ensure there is a focus on cross-system collaboration, transparency and appropriate data sharing between health, adult social care and public health.
“Members will be keen to see available funding released quickly and hope the approval process goes smoothly and quickly so they can put it to good use as soon as possible, making them as resilient as possible before the difficult season of winter hits.”
Fiona Carragher, director of research and advocacy at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘While much of the recent AI debate has focused on potential risks, there is no doubt that it presents huge opportunities for healthcare.
“In addition to diagnosis, AI will increasingly be used to transform the way we live with chronic diseases, including dementia.”