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NHS to provide funds to reward use of AI in health service

Incentives will be given from April 2020, says NHS England chief executive

Healthcare providers will be given extra resources to substitute some clinical tasks with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, the chief executive of NHS England has said.

Speaking at the Reform Health Conference on 5 June, Simon Stevens pledged to consider reimbursement reforms to the NHS tariff and other payment systems to incentivise uptake of AI technologies across the health system.

Stevens said the changes will take effect from April 2020, resulting in NHS organisations being “properly rewarded” for investing in AI and machine learning.

“We are seeing an artificial intelligence revolution that will be a big part of our future over the next five years, with technologies that can cut the time that patients wait for scan results and ease the burden on hardworking staff,” he said. “We want the NHS to be first out of the blocks.

“We are kicking off a global ‘call for evidence’ for NHS staff and technology innovators to come forward with their best ideas for how we should adjust our financial frameworks to best incentivise the use of safe and evidence-based AI and machine learning technologies across the NHS.”

According to NHS England, hospitals across the system provide more than 100 million outpatient appointments, and one of the ambitions of the NHS’s Long-Term Plan is make use of AI and machine learning to help clinicians interpret scans.

Examples of where AI and machine learning trials have demonstrated the potential to increase efficiency include the two million breast screenings carried out in the UK each year, in which each result is reviewed by two clinicians, said NHS England.

An AI system being trialled at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital has also been mentioned, with the system making the correct referral decision for more than 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy.

Read more about AI in the NHS

In February, the government released a code of conduct for the use of AI and other data-driven technologies in the NHS, and one of the objectives was to “make sure the NHS gets a fair deal from the commercialisation of its data resources”.

Last year, Simon Eccles, chief clinical information officer for health and care at the NHS, said the time was right to apply technologies such as AI in the health system.

“The model of care [in the NHS] is the 1948 model – the GP in the surgery, the community practice and district nurse in the car, the hospital with consultants and junior doctors in white coats,” he said. “We don’t use AI much in healthcare – and we should.”

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