The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is set to receive a boost in its capabilities with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. A £21 million fund has been announced by the Health and Social Care Secretary to provide NHS staff with the latest AI tools for faster diagnosis and treatment of patients.
Through the AI Diagnostic Fund, NHS Trusts will have the opportunity to apply for funding to expedite the implementation of AI imaging and decision support tools. These tools will aid in the quicker diagnosis of various conditions, including cancers, strokes, and heart conditions.
The Health and Social Care Secretary has also pledged to expand the use of AI stroke-diagnosis technology to cover 100% of stroke networks by the end of 2023, up from the current 86%. This advancement will ensure faster treatment for thousands of stroke patients.
The dedicated funding was announced by Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay ahead of the NHS’s 75th birthday. Barclay emphasized the transformative impact of AI on healthcare, with AI tools already making a significant difference in early condition detection and prompt treatment.
The AI Diagnostic Fund will include a focus on the analysis of chest X-rays, which are widely used in diagnosing lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the UK. Given the high volume of over 600,000 chest X-rays conducted each month in England, deploying diagnostic AI tools to more NHS Trusts will support clinicians in diagnosing cancer at earlier stages, leading to improved patient outcomes.
The integration of AI into the NHS has already shown positive results, in some cases halving the time it takes those who have suffered strokes to get treatment, as doctors are able to diagnose more quickly, which greatly enhances the chances of patients living independently after a stroke. Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, highlighted the NHS’s commitment to adopting proven technologies like AI to deliver better care and value for patients and taxpayers.
The £21 million funding will be accessible to any NHS Trust seeking to deploy AI diagnostic tools, with the condition that the proposals demonstrate value for money. The UK government has previously invested £123 million in 86 AI technologies, benefiting patients through stroke diagnosis, screening, cardiovascular monitoring, and home-based condition management.
The government’s Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Chloe Smith, stressed the revolutionary potential of AI in improving diagnosis and expediting treatments. The application of AI in healthcare is facilitated by a balanced regulatory approach, paving the way for transformative advancements that benefit both patients and healthcare professionals.
Medical professionals within the NHS have also expressed their support for AI integration. Dr. Deb Lowe, National Clinical Director for Stroke Medicine, highlighted the positive impact of AI decision support software in the early stages of stroke care, reducing the likelihood of disability and saving lives.
The announcement of the £21 million fund was welcomed by Dr. Katharine Halliday, President of the Royal College of Radiologists, pointed out the need for innovation in diagnostic services, particularly in increasing capacity. AI has the potential to enhance efficiency, support decision-making, and prioritize urgent cases, while working alongside highly trained radiologists.
In addition to the funding, the government has launched the AI & Digital Regulation Service, providing NHS staff with access to relevant information and guidance on safely deploying AI devices. This service simplifies the understanding of AI regulations in the NHS and streamlines the process of bringing AI products to market.
Given the substantial annual expenditure of £10 billion on medical technology in the NHS, with the global market projected to reach £150 billion next year, access to new technologies like AI brings significant benefits to patients. These advancements enable prevention, early diagnosis, more effective treatments, and faster recovery, improving overall healthcare outcomes.