A £250 million spending commitment to boost artificial intelligence (AI) in the NHS was announced by the Government.
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said AI had the capacity to help "transform patient experience".
Earlier cancer detection, new dementia treatments, and more personalised care would be the aim of a new National Artificial Intelligence Lab, ministers promised.
The lab will be the responsibility of NHSX, the new organisation which will oversee the digitisation of the health and care service, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative.
The organisation has strategic responsibility for setting the direction of technology across organisations to aid the creation of a modern technical architecture for health and care services and to sweep away systems designed for a pre-internet age.
"Today’s announcement gets the NHS ready for the AI revolution, so that doctors can identify and treat disease faster and more effectively," Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX commented.
The new lab would bring together academics, specialists, and technology companies to harness the power of AI to improve the health and lives of patients, the Government said.
A key aim of the lab would be to support ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, which included promises to use AI to help clinicians eliminate variations in care.
Outcomes included freeing up hospital beds, bringing treatments closer to the homes of patients, and predicting cancer survival rates.
The announcement came in a week in which the Government announced a range of spending commitments for updating NHS facilities.
Mr Hancock, who called for the NHS to become a world leader in technologically driven healthcare, 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.
"I am determined to bring the benefits of technology to patients and staff, so the impact of our NHS Long Term Plan, and this immediate, multimillion pound cash injection are felt by all.
"It's part of our mission to make the NHS the best it can be."
AI Lab Goals
According to the Government, the new AI Lab could:
- Improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, including mammograms, brain scans, eye scans, and heart monitoring
- Use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices, or surgeries
- Identify which patients could be more easily treated in the community
- Identify patients most at risk of diseases such as heart disease or dementia
- Build systems to detect people at risk of post-operative complications, infections or requiring follow-up from clinicians
- Upskill the NHS workforce so they can use AI systems for day-to-day tasks
- Inspect algorithms already used by the NHS to increase the standards of AI safety
- Automate routine admin tasks to free up clinicians' time
AI 'World Leader' Ambitions
Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, commented: "Carefully targeted AI is now ready for practical application in health services, and the investment announced today is another step in the right direction to help the NHS become a world leader in using these important technologies."
Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital said: "We welcome the Government’s clear ambition to become a world-leader in the use of AI within the health system, and look forward to supporting the next wave of AI-based initiatives which are commissioned through the new National Artificial Intelligence Lab."
Matthew Honeyman, a researcher at the health think-tank, The King's Fund, said: "Whilst technology will never be able to replace the compassion and empathy a person can offer, it could undoubtedly enhance treatment and free up clinicians' time for patient care. The funding announced by the government will give the NHS a welcome boost in its ability to develop new technologies like artificial intelligence.
"Just as important as the money announced today is the health service's readiness to adopt new technology. Many staff in the NHS currently feel that IT makes their life harder, not easier. Rolling out new technologies like AI will require standards to ensure patient safety, a workforce equipped with digital skills, and an upgrade to outdated basic NHS tech infrastructure."
Peter Ellingworth, CEO of the Association of British HealthTech Industries, said: "Investment in digitisation and diagnostic technologies will bring significant benefits to patient care, cutting waiting times and alleviating workforce burdens."