Health Minister Matt Hancock has announced the provision of £140 million to support the development of artificial intelligence services for healthcare.
He said the money will be made available over the next three years through the National AI Lab – created last August within NHSX – through competitions run twice a year through the NHS Accelerated Access Collaborative.
Announcing the plan in a speech to the Healthtech Alliance, Hancock said the focus will be on “finding and boosting existing technologies with serious scale-up potential”, and that the awards will cover all stages of the product cyber, from proof of concept to initial adoption in the NHS.
The first call for proposals will focus on screening, diagnosis, clinical decision support and system efficiency.
He added that the AI Lab, which provides a forum for academics, specialists and technology companies to harness the technology for healthcare, will also have a skunkworks unit to build and rapidly test prototypes.
“The AI Lab is a crucial tool in NHSX’s armoury for putting the world’s best technology in the hands of NHS clinicians and managers, all so we can bring the NHS into the 21st century,” Hancock said.
As an example of what could be achieved with AI for healthcare, he pointed to the development of natural language processing tool named Cogstack by a team at King’s College Hospital. This can perform manual coding and data collection tasks in a tenth of the time needed by a human analyst, providing the potential for major savings and speeding up medical research.
He also pointed to University College London Hospital using AI to predict and prevent missed appointments, and the East Midlands Radiology Consortium trialling the technology in reading mammograms.
Hancock added that he has directed NHSX, the body within the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) to oversee digitisation in healthcare, to step up the scope and ambition of the Digital Ready Workforce Programme. This is aimed at bringing people in the NHS together to encourage innovation with digital technology, with a focus on finding where people have solved part of a problem and stitching elements together into a cohesive offering for the health service.
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