NHS to set up a national AI lab

NHS sign

The NHS in England is setting up a national AI laboratory to enhance care of patients and research, with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, saying that AI has “enormous power” to improve care, save lives and ensure doctors had more time to spend with patients. He announced £250m will be spent on boosting the role of AI within the health service.

The advanced computer software is already showing its potential to revolutionize medicine in fields ranging from diagnosing patients, gleaning new insights into diseases and improving how hospitals run.

Artificial intelligences thrive when an algorithm can learn from huge amounts of data to spot patterns. Unsurprisingly, medical imaging was one of the first areas to test AI-based algorithms and their ability to learn from thousands and thousands of scans.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is an AI-trained software such as the one developed by the University College London to predict which patients are more likely to miss an appointment and could be targeted with reminder phone calls.

AI also has the potential to unlock fresh insights into diseases; one example of this is a software that has been used to identify a new way of diagnosing atrial fibrillation, a common condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly.

There are some challenges on the way to AI’s wider adoption, from training staff to enhancing cyber-security and ensuring patient confidentiality.

The Royal Free Hospital in north London was criticized in 2017 for sharing 1.6 million patient data records with Google’s AI division, DeepMind. The Information Commission ruled the hospital had not done enough to safeguard patient data.

Another challenge stems from the fact that AI can only ever be as good as the data it learns from. This is the problems since most medical research is on people of white ancestry, meaning AI trained on such data could be less effective for people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Mr Hancock said it was “incredibly important” that AI “represented society”.

In other words, AI in healthcare is still in its infancy, but the hope is that newly announced AI lab will help both the doctors and patients in the UK.

“The power of artificial intelligence to improve medicine, to save lives, to improve the way treatments are done, that power is enormous,” Mr Hancock told BBC News. “In this country, we’ve got the opportunity to be one of the leading countries in the world at using this new technology.”