Health and Social Care secretary Steve Barclay has announced £21m funding for the NHS, ahead of the 75th anniversary of its founding by the post-war Labour government.
The funding is said to be for patient diagnosis using artificial intelligence (AI) software. According to the government, NHS Trusts will be able to apply to an “AI Diagnostic Fund” to buy and deploy imaging and decision-support tools to help diagnose patients more quickly for conditions such as cancers, strokes and heart conditions.
The government has identified chest X-rays as an area ripe for the use of what it describes as “AI tools”. More than 600,000 chest X-rays are performed each month in England and are the most common means of uncovering lung cancer.
Barclay said: “Artificial intelligence is already transforming the way we deliver healthcare and AI tools are already making a significant impact across the NHS in diagnosing conditions earlier, meaning people can be treated more quickly.
“As we celebrate the NHS’s 75th birthday and look ahead to the future, I’m focused on adopting the latest cutting-edge technology across our health and care system.”
He also said AI stroke-diagnosis technology will be rolled out to 100% of stroke networks by the end of 2023, up from 83% today.
Deb Lowe, national clinical director for stroke medicine of NHS England, said: “The use of AI decision-support software in the initial stages of stroke care means patients get interventions quicker, reducing the likelihood of disability and saving the brains.
“We are already seeing the positive impact of AI decision-support software on stroke care, where rapid assessment and treatment are of the essence.”
In December 2022, the government hailed the success of a “Brainomix” stroke diagnosis tool that received funding from the first round of its AI in Health and Care Award, in 2020. Barclay said of the Brainomix project: “It is an incredible example of using the power of AI to shave life-saving minutes off one of the most time-sensitive diagnoses in medicine, meaning patients get the treatment they need faster.”
In March of last year, NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) introduced a framework to provide NHS organisations with access to artificial intelligence (AI) for supporting patients who have suffered a stroke.
The Provision of AI software in neuroscience for stroke decision making support procurement framework agreement aimed to provide the NHS with a way to access image analysis technology for the detection of ischaemic or haemorrhagic strokes.
The government said it has invested £123m in 86 AI technologies since 2020. This new tranche of £21m funding will be open for bids for any AI diagnostic tool that trusts want to buy and use.
Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, added: “The NHS is already harnessing the benefits of AI across the country in helping to catch and treat major diseases earlier, as well as better managing waiting lists so patients can be seen quicker.
“As we approach our milestone 75th birthday, this is another example of how NHS is continuing its proud history of adopting the latest proven technology to deliver better care for patients, and better value for taxpayers.”
Katharine Halliday, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “At a time when diagnostic services are under strain, it is critical that we embrace innovation that could boost capacity – and so we welcome the government’s announcement of a £21m fund to purchase and deploy AI diagnostic tools.
“Together with a highly trained and expert radiologist workforce, AI will undoubtedly play a significant part in the future of diagnostics”.
The NHS spends £10bn a year on medical technology notes the statement announcing the fund for procuring AI tools for diagnosis.