NHS receives AI fund to improve healthcare efficiency

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NHS staff will soon have access to advanced AI technology to enhance the speed and accuracy of patient diagnosis and treatment, thanks to a new £21 million fund.

The AI Diagnostic Fund will allow NHS Trusts to apply for funding to expedite the deployment of AI imaging and decision support tools, particularly for diagnosing conditions such as cancers, strokes, and heart conditions.

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, has also pledged to implement AI stroke-diagnosis technology across all stroke networks by the end of 2023, a significant increase from the current 86 percent. This initiative aims to facilitate faster treatment for thousands of stroke patients.

Barclay emphasised the transformative impact of AI on healthcare and its ability to improve patient care and reduce waiting times.

As of April 2023, there were 7.42 million people waiting for treatment on the NHS waiting list in England. This is the highest number of people waiting for treatment since records began in 2004.

Of these patients, nearly 3.09 million were waiting over 18 weeks, and around 371,000 were waiting over a year for treatment. The median waiting time for treatment was 13.8 weeks – almost double the pre-COVID median wait of 7.2 weeks in April 2019.

One of the primary applications of the AI Diagnostic Fund is the use of AI tools for analysing chest X-rays, a common diagnostic tool for lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the UK.

With over 600,000 chest X-rays performed each month in England, the widespread deployment of AI tools to NHS Trusts will aid clinicians in early cancer detection, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

The integration of AI in the NHS has already demonstrated positive results, such as reducing the time it takes to diagnose and treat stroke victims. By enabling faster stroke diagnosis, AI has been shown to triple the chances of patients living independently after a stroke.

Sridhar Iyengar, Managing Director of Zoho Europe, said:

“Artificial Intelligence is set to play a crucial role in the future of many industries, including digital healthcare. It could enable doctors and nurses to make faster, more accurate decisions.

Key to its continued success is building trust with the public, ensuring the highest standards of data management, to protect the privacy of patients.

Deployed correctly, AI can save time and money. This is something that is already seen in many private sector businesses across the UK and public services can benefit from following suit.”

The funding provided through the AI Diagnostic Fund will be available to support the implementation of any AI diagnostic tool that NHS Trusts wish to deploy. However, the proposals must demonstrate value for money to receive approval.

The government has already invested £123 million in 86 AI technologies, benefiting patients through improved stroke diagnosis, screening, cardiovascular monitoring, and home-based condition management.

The introduction of AI into healthcare aligns with the NHS’s mission to adopt the latest proven technology to enhance patient care and provide value for taxpayers.

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 diseases 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.”

To ensure the safe deployment of AI devices, the government recently established the AI & Digital Regulation Service, which assists NHS staff in accessing the necessary information and guidance. This service simplifies the understanding of AI regulations in the NHS, enabling developers and adopters of AI to bring their products to market more efficiently.

The investment in AI technology is crucial, considering that the NHS currently spends £10 billion annually on medical technology, and the global market is projected to reach £150 billion next year. Access to innovative technologies promises significant benefits for patients, including disease prevention, early diagnosis, effective treatments, and faster recovery.

Dr Antonio Espingardeiro, IEEE member, software and robotics expert, commented:

“As it becomes more sophisticated, AI can efficiently conduct tasks traditionally undertaken by humans, the potential for the technology within the medical field is huge. It can analyse vast quantities of information, and when coupled with machine learning, search through records and infer patterns or anomalies in data, that would otherwise take decades for humans to analyse.

We are just starting to see the beginning of a new era where machine learning could bring substantial value and transform the traditional role of the doctor. The true capabilities of this technology as an aide to the healthcare sector are yet to be fully realised.

In the future, we may even be able to solve of some of the biggest challenges and issues of our time. With the increased adoption of AI and robotics, we will soon be able to deliver the scalability that the healthcare sector needs and establish more proactive care delivery.”

With the support of AI, NHS staff can look forward to enhanced capabilities in diagnosing and treating patients, leading to improved healthcare outcomes and a more efficient healthcare system overall.

(Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash)

Want to learn more about AI and big data from industry leaders? Check out AI & Big Data Expo taking place in Amsterdam, California, and London. The event is co-located with Digital Transformation Week.

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