Today’s announcement (8 August 2019) by Health Secretary Matt Hancock of £250 million investment in artificial intelligence (AI) has been warmly welcomed by the AHSN Network.

The plans include creation of an AI Lab, which will bring together the industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies to work on some of the biggest challenges in health and care, including earlier cancer detection, new dementia treatments and more personalised care. The lab will sit within NHSX, the new organisation that will oversee the digitisation of the health and care system, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative.

Guy Boersma, Managing Director of Kent Surrey Sussex AHSN and the AHSN Network’s National Lead on Digital & AI Innovation, said that AI presented a huge opportunity for the health and care sector.

“In the not too distant future there will simply not be enough working-age folk to carry out the roles that doctors and nurses currently provide. AI can play a key role in addressing that demographic imbalance, giving staff of the future the ‘gift of time’, as outlined in the Topol Review, to care for more patients with time-saving support from AI.

“The AHNS Network is very supportive of the plans to support AI in the UK. The government has been consistent in its enablement of AI; its Industrial Strategy states that the NHS is uniquely placed given its big longitudinal dataset from multiple decades (a rare resource), and Topol cited AI as a Top Ten Disruptive Innovation.

“While some may consider AI to be the future of healthcare, in reality it is already here and making a great impact.

“Within the Technology Integrated Health Management for Dementia project in Surrey, algorithms are already detecting urinary tract infections, preventing falls and reducing emergency admissions. Meanwhile the East Midlands Radiology Consortium is using AI and machine learning to improve breast cancer screening.

“As these and other projects show, AI has the potential to help humans make decisions. AI should be seen more as been a case of Augmented Intelligence, rather than replacing people with machines.

“There’s a systemic need to support the development of promising technology and adoption of well evidenced beneficial innovations, and the AHSN Network exists to support this, not just for AI but for all health and care innovations.”​

Find out more about the AHSN Network AI Initiative and read our State of the Nation report.