£21 million to roll out artificial intelligence across the NHS

NHS staff will be given the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology to diagnose and treat patients more quickly thanks to a new £21 million fund announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary.

NHS Trusts will be able to apply to the AI Diagnostic Fund to accelerate the deployment of the most promising AI imaging and decision support tools to help diagnose patients more quickly for conditions such as cancers, strokes and heart conditions.

The Health and Social Care Secretary has also committed to rolling out AI stroke-diagnosis technology to 100% of stroke networks by the end of 2023 – up from 86% today  – helping thousands of patients suffering from a stroke get treated faster.

The ring-fenced funding was announced by Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, ahead of the NHS’s 75th birthday.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

Artificial intelligence is already transforming the way we deliver healthcare and AI tools are already making a significant impact across the NHS in diagnosing conditions earlier, meaning people can be treated more quickly.

As we celebrate the NHS’s 75th birthday and look ahead to the future, I’m focused on adopting the latest cutting-edge technology across our health and care system to ensure we can continue to deliver the best care for our patients and cut waiting times, which is one of the government’s five priorities.

This AI Diagnostic Fund will include the use of AI tools to analyse chest X-Rays – the most common tool used to diagnose lung cancer – which is the leading cause of cancer death in the UK. With over 600,000 chest X-rays performed each month in England, the deployment of diagnostic AI tools to more NHS Trusts will support clinicians to diagnose cancer patients earlier, improving patient outcomes.

The use of AI in the NHS is already having a positive impact on outcomes for patients, with AI in some cases halving the time for stroke victims to get the treatment they need by helping doctors diagnose stroke faster, which has been shown to triple the chance of patients living independently after a stroke.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said:

The NHS is already harnessing the benefits of AI across the country in helping to catch and treat major diseases earlier, as well as better managing waiting lists so patients can be seen quicker. As we approach our milestone 75th birthday, this is another example of how NHS is continuing its proud history of adopting the latest proven technology to deliver better care for patients, and better value for taxpayers.

The £21 million funding will be open for bids for any AI diagnostic tool that trusts want to deploy, but will have to represent value for money for the funding to be approved.

The government has already invested £123 million into 86 AI technologies, which is helping patients by supporting stroke diagnosis, screening, cardiovascular monitoring and managing conditions at home.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology Chloe Smith, said: 

Improving diagnosis and speeding up treatments for patients through AI is a game-changer.   

The application of AI across the NHS is supported by our balanced regulatory approach and has the potential to be truly transformative, both for patients and our unrivalled health and social care workforce both now and in the decades to come.

Nothing could be a more fitting celebration of its 75th anniversary than a demonstration of how the NHS remains at the cutting edge of modern day technology and innovation.

Dr Deb Lowe, National Clinical Director for Stroke Medicine, NHS England:

The use of AI decision support software in the initial stages of stroke care means patients get interventions quicker, reducing the likelihood of disability and saving the brains.

We are already seeing the positive impact of AI decision support software on stroke care, where rapid assessment and treatment are of the essence, and we now have real world evidence of the benefit for NHS patients – “ as we approach the NHS’s 75th birthday and look ahead to the future, funding this technology will be key to reducing disability and saving brains.

Dr Katharine Halliday, President of the Royal College of Radiologists said:

At a time when diagnostic services are under strain, it is critical that we embrace innovation that could boost capacity – and so we welcome the Government’s announcement of a £21 million fund to purchase and deploy AI diagnostic tools.

All doctors want to give patients the best possible care. This starts with a timely diagnosis, and crucially, catching disease at the earliest point. There is huge promise in AI, which could save clinicians time by maximising our efficiency, supporting our decision-making and helping identify and prioritise the most urgent cases. Together with a highly trained and expert radiologist workforce, AI will undoubtedly play a significant part in the future of diagnostics.

The government also recently announced a new AI & Digital Regulation Service to help NHS staff find the right information and guidance when it comes to deploying AI devices safely. This has made it easier for developers and adopters of AI to understand regulations governing AI in the NHS and is saving them time in bringing products to market.

For medical technology alone, the NHS spends £10 billion a year and the global market is forecast to reach £150 billion next year.  Access to new technologies means patients benefit enormously, with breakthroughs enabling prevention of ill-health, earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, and faster recovery.

Luke Simmonds

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