Pledge to use artificial intelligence to speed up diagnosis – but can the NHS keep-pace with AI recruitment costs?
In its third pledge to the UK’s National Health Service in a week, Boris Johnson’s government has said that it will allocate £250m to create a National Artificial Intelligence Lab to develop “cutting edge treatments for cancer, dementia and heart disease.”
Announcing the funding today, the new prime minister says the AI lab will develop ways to diagnose diseases like cancer and dementia quicker and earlier on in their development.
Longevity.Technology: The NHS’s new AI lab has the potential to drive promising innovation in the AI space and boost public Longevity. But whether the funding produces effective results remains to be seen. Will this investment be integrated effectively into a tech infrastructure that many consider badly outdated? AI experts don’t come cheap: consider recent accounts posted to the UK’s Companies House that placed Google DeepMind’s 2018 staff costs and other expenses at £568m  – what will the NHS be able to do with less than half of this sum?
The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: ‘Technology completes secondary trials and provides further evidence for safety and efficacy.‘
The TRL score for the technology addressed in this article is: ‘Technology refined and ready for initial human trials.‘
The health secretary Matt Hancock said, “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.” Hancock is a proponent of AI and tech (he has his own app, as a matter of fact, eponymously named ‘Matt Hancock MP’).
The announcement follows one at the end of last week by the Johnson government that committed a further £1.5bn to the health service, although many critics were quick to point out that £1bn of this was not a new allocation, but money released from savings made by previous cuts. Officials have described the latest tranche here, however, as new money from the treasury.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has welcomed the news. He says that “carefully targeted” AI was ready for practical application in health services, and the investment is another “step in the right direction”.
He adds: “In the first instance it should help personalise NHS screening and treatments for cancer, eye disease and a range of other conditions, as well as freeing up staff time, and our new NHS AI Lab will ensure the benefits of NHS data and innovation are fully harnessed for patients in this country.”
The lab will sit within NHSx, the new organisation set to oversee the digitisation of the health and care system. They are in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative.
Privacy concerns have been raised about the opening up of patient data to AI, especially in the wake of the last two years, which have seen North London’s Royal Free Hospital castigated for sharing 1.6 million patient records with Google’s Deepmind, and a large scale cyber attack that disrupted appointment systems nation wide. NHSx insist that they are facing these challenges. They say that they “want to work closely,” with organisations like the Open Data Institute and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation “who’ve thought deeply about what it means to use data-driven systems in a fair, respectful, transparent and accountable way”.
The NHSx are sanguine about the projects’ prospects. “Staying ahead of where the tech is going is good for the NHS. One reason why the NHS struggles with interoperability now is that we failed to futureproof our technology in the past.”