NHS boss challenges tech firms to help service become AI leader

The NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has called on tech firms to help the health service become a world leader in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Stevens announced a global call for evidence from technologists for how the NHS can best incentivise the use of carefully targeted AI across the NHS from April 2020 and beyond at the Reform Health Conference – asking innovators to come forward with proposals for how the NHS can harness solutions to free up staff time and cut the time patients wait for results.

At the same time he pledged to consider reimbursement reforms to the NHS tariff and other payment systems to incentivise quick and safe adoption across the NHS.

The technology can help speed up diagnosis of cancer and other diseases and deliver more convenient outpatient care.

Stevens said: “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 patients wait for scan results and ease the burden on hard working staff.

“We want the NHS to be first out of the blocks, so from April next year we propose to change the way we fund care so that NHS organisations who invest in this world-leading technology will be properly rewarded for doing so.

“We’re therefore 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.”

Exploiting the boom in AI technology will help to meet the NHS Long Term Plan’s target of making up to 30 million outpatient appointments unnecessary, saving over £1 billion in what would have been increasing outpatient visits. NHS hospitals in England currently provide over 100 million outpatient appointments. Testing of AI and machine learning technology has already demonstrated its potential to ease the burden on staff and free them up for other work.

The NHS is carrying out more diagnostic tests than ever before. There were 315,000 MRI scans and over 520,000 CT scans in March alone, according to the latest figures. That is up 20% from 260,000 MRI in the same month three years ago and CT scans were up a third from 390,000 CT.

According to Royal College of Radiologists, in mammography screening the NHS is performing around two million breast screens for women a year in the UK, with each test result reviewed by two clinicians.

Testing of AI and machine learning technology has already demonstrated its potential to ease the burden on staff and free them up for other work.

An AI system trialled at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, found it made the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy.




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