Funding boost for AI diagnostics

Government announces £50m fund to support technologies which speed up diagnosis of cancer and other diseases

The Government has announced funding to accelerate the use of artificial intelligence across the NHS

Patients are set to benefit from major improvements in technology to speed up the diagnosis of deadly diseases following the announcement of further investment in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) across the NHS.

A £50m funding boost will scale up the work of existing Digital Pathology and Imaging Artificial Intelligence Centres of Excellence, which were launched in 2018 to develop cutting-edge digital tools to improve the diagnosis of diseases including cancer.

The three centres set to receive a share of the funding, based in Coventry, Leeds and London, will deliver digital upgrades to pathology and imaging services across an additional 38 NHS trusts, benefiting 26.5 million patients across England.

Technology is a force for good in our fight against the deadliest diseases – it can transform and save lives through faster diagnosis, free up clinicians to spend time with their patients, and make every pound in the NHS go further

Pathology and imaging services, including radiology, play a crucial role in the diagnosis of diseases and the funding will lead to faster and more-accurate diagnosis and more-personalised treatments for patients, freeing up clinicians’ time and ultimately saving lives.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Technology is a force for good in our fight against the deadliest diseases – it can transform and save lives through faster diagnosis, free up clinicians to spend time with their patients, and make every pound in the NHS go further.

“I am determined we do all we can to save lives by spotting cancer sooner.

“And bringing the benefits of artificial intelligence to the frontline of our health service with this funding is another step in that mission.

“We can support doctors to improve the care we provide and make Britain a world-leader in this field.”

To coincide with the announcement the Government has also provided an update on the number of cancer diagnostic machines replaced in England since September 2019, when a £200m fund was announced to help replace MRI machines, CT scanners and breast screening equipment.

As a trust we’re excited to be playing such a major part in helping the UK to take a leading role in the development and delivery of these new technologies to improve patient outcomes and enhance our understanding and utilisation of clinical information

Hancock said 69 scanners had now been installed and are in use, 10 more are being installed, and 75 have been ordered or are ready to be installed.

The new funding is part of the Government’s commitment to saving thousands more lives each year and detecting three quarters of all cancers at an early stage by 2028.

National Pathology Imaging Co-operative director and a consultant pathologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Darren Treanor, said: “This investment will allow us to use digital pathology to diagnose cancer at 21 NHS trusts in the north, serving a population of six million people.

“We will also build a national network spanning another 25 hospitals in England, allowing doctors to get expert second opinions in rare cancers, such as childhood tumours, more rapidly.

“This funding puts the NHS in a strong position to be a global leader in the use of artificial intelligence in the diagnosis of disease.”

Professor Kiran Patel, chief medical officer and interim chief executive at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, added: “We are delighted to receive and lead this funding.

“This represents a major capital investment into the NHS which will massively expand the digitisation of cellular pathology services, driving diagnostic evaluation to new heights and increasing access to a vast amount of image information for research.

This funding puts the NHS in a strong position to be a global leader in the use of artificial intelligence in the diagnosis of disease

“As a trust we’re excited to be playing such a major part in helping the UK to take a leading role in the development and delivery of these new technologies to improve patient outcomes and enhance our understanding and utilisation of clinical information.”

Alongside the clinical improvements, the investment also supports the UK’s long-term response to COVID-19, contributing to the Government’s aim of building a British diagnostics industry at scale.

The funding will support the UK’s artificial intelligence and technology industries by allowing the centres to partner with new and innovative British small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), boosting the economic recovery from coronavirus.

The announcement has also been welcomed by HealthTech companies. Lauren Bevan, head of health and social care at technology consultancy, BJSS, told BBH: “Given the demands on all parts of the NHS both due to COVID and annual winter pressures, this funding announcement comes at an ideal time.

My hope is that this increases the NHS’ confidence in using this technology and that it enables a wider spread of technology innovation that is driven at a local level

“The fund will deliver a combination of pilots and development for earlier-stage innovations. And the evidence base that it will generate is key to helping the NHS gain confidence in the efficacy of its solutions, while it will also help innovators to achieve support with real-world-evidence as they deliver critical solutions ‘in the wild’.

"My hope is that this increases the NHS’ confidence in using this technology and that it enables a wider spread of technology innovation that is driven at a local level. This will hopefully fix local, rather than national, issues."

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