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Review: Better NHS data sharing ‘could harness AI’

16/10/17

New Government report identifies barriers to exploiting artificial intelligence in healthcare

A fresh call to improve healthcare by sharing data from patients’ NHS records has been put forward in the new Government review of artificial intelligence (AI) – despite past controversies holding up the move. 

Among the broader issues of how to promote the growth of the AI industry and its role in public services, Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK argues the “security challenges” holding up access to health data for AI “can be overcome by agreements”.

Stethoscope on laptopIt highlights how the NHS is failing to exploit AI by passing on anonymised data to new tech initiatives such as Your.MD, which offers AI powered healthcare advice via a mobile phone app.

Matteo Berlucchi, the firm’s chief executive, revealed he had appealed for “access to reliable and consistent datasets of anonymised personal health records” to push forward the project.

“We have tried to approach the NHS to see if there was a way to access some of this data but we have struggled to even find the right person to talk to,” he protested.

The report says: “There is a need for secure, managed access to data for AI, offering agreed sharing of benefits, and retaining protections on repeatable standard terms.”

Earlier retreat

However, the recommendation is likely to revive previous controversies over data sharing of health records, which forced the Government into retreat.

Last year, ministers scrapped the care.data plan to link GP records after an outcry over whether the public had been properly informed and given the chance to opt out.

The Department of Health then promised that any new record sharing system would come with “a single and simple mechanism for individuals to opt out of their data being shared beyond their direct care”.

However, draft plans leaked to the Daily Telegraph last month appeared to suggest that even patients who opt out could see their information shared across services covering up to 5 million people.

Meanwhile, in July, the Information Commissioner criticised an NHS hospital which failed to use an appropriate legal basis to share 1.6m patient records with Google’s Deepmind AI firm.

Image by Kaggle, www.kaggle.com

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