All NHS staff should have basic AI training, says report

A report by the NHS AI Lab and Health Education England calls for all health and care staff to receive training in artificial intelligence as the technology will be increasingly adopted in healthcare practice

A report, titled Developing healthcare workers’ confidence in AI, has called for staff across the NHS to at least receive basic education in how artificial intelligence (AI) works.

The report, published by the NHS AI Lab and Health Education England (HEE), said that as AI technology is already being used within the NHS, and its usage is likely to increase drastically over the coming years, staff need to not only be able to use it, but also understand and feel comfortable with it. However, it added that doing so was likely to be a challenge.

According to the report, there are concerns about the lack of basic awareness and knowledge about AI among healthcare workers, which highlights an urgent need for an accessible, foundational AI education programme.

“Educating healthcare workers to develop, implement and use AI effectively and safely is a multidimensional challenge, involving undergraduate education, post-graduate training and lifelong learning. The challenge is to provide the right resources to the right people and build skills and capabilities across the healthcare workforce in the most efficient and effective way possible,” the report said.

“This challenge demands an approach to educating and training for AI that is flexible, including a mixture of widespread acquisition of awareness and knowledge whilst also supporting specialist skills and capabilities to deploy and maintain these technologies. This means providing a solid foundation for developing AI-related knowledge, as well as personalised advanced educational elements to fit the needs of individuals in different roles and responsibilities.”

The report describes five different archetypes – shapers, drivers, creators, embedders and users – each of which need different knowledge and skills to develop, implement or use AI technologies.

“The archetypes do not necessarily align with traditional professional groups (for example, doctors, nurses, allied health professionals), specialisms or levels of seniority, but depend solely on an individual’s role in the development, implementation and use of AI technologies. A specific archetype may include individuals from various professional and managerial backgrounds,” the report said.

“Educating healthcare workers to develop, implement and use AI effectively and safely is a multidimensional challenge”
NHS AI Lab and Health Education England report

Brhmie Balaram, head of AI research and ethics at the NHS AI Lab, said that for the NHS as a whole to embrace new AI technologies so “they are adopted equitably across the country, it is vital that we ensure all of our staff receive appropriate training in AI”.

“This important new research will support those organisations that train our health and care workers to develop their curriculums to ensure staff of the future receive the training in AI they will need,” said Balaram.

“This project is only one in a series at the NHS AI Lab to help ensure the workforce and local NHS organisations are ready for the further spread of AI technologies that have been found to be safe, ethical and effective.”

A previous report on this topic found that the majority of clinicians were not familiar with AI technologies and that without the right support and training, patients would not get the benefits offered by AI.

The reports come after a report by cardiologist, geneticist and digital medicine researcher Eric Topol called for NHS organisations to foster a new culture of learning by adopting multi-professional collaborative approaches; introducing more workplace learning infrastructure; developing proactive, rather than reactive, learning; and giving staff dedicated time for development and learning away from their day-to-day duties.

Commenting on this report, Topol said the research undertaken by HEE and the NHS AI Lab “represents a significant step forward in developing confidence in AI in the healthcare workforce”.

“It is a model for other countries to adopt as we move forward with implementing AI in medical practice,” Topol added.

The government has long been touting AI as a solution to many of the issues the NHS is facing. In 2018, then prime minister Theresa May said AI could transform cancer diagnosis as she called on the NHS, health charities and the AI sector to utilise tech to transform the diagnosis of chronic diseases.  

The, now defunct, NHSX, has also had several rounds of its AI in Health and Care Award, offering funding for AI products to be used in the NHS.

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