NHS investing £250M in new AI lab to target earlier cancer detection, dementia treatments

The U.K.'s National Health Service is investing £250 million into an artificial intelligence lab with the aim of researching how AI can aid with earlier cancer detection and new dementia treatments.

In an announcement on Thursday, the NHS said the new national AI lab will bring together industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies to work on some of the biggest challenges in healthcare.

AI is already being developed in some hospitals, successfully predicting cancer survival rates and cutting the number of missed appointments, according to NHS officials.

The lab will sit within NHSX, a new organization overseeing the digitization of the healthcare system that brings together the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and NHS Improvement.

"We are on the cusp of a huge health tech revolution that could transform the patient experience by making the NHS a truly predictive, preventive and personalized health and care service," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement.

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"I am determined to bring the benefits of technology to patients and staff, so the impact of our NHS Long Term Plan and this immediate, multimillion-pound cash injection are felt by all. It’s part of our mission to make the NHS the best it can be," Hancock said.

Hancock also said the U.K. is poised to be the world leader in health technology advances because of the NHS and its tech talent.

"I’m determined to give the NHS the chance to be the world leader in saving lives through artificial intelligence and genomics," he said.

Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said healthcare AI will help to personalize NHS screening and treatments for cancer, eye disease and a range of other conditions, as well as freeing up staff time.

"Carefully targeted AI is now ready for practical application in health services, and the investment announced today is another step in the right direction to help the NHS become a world leader in using these important technologies," Stevens said.

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NHS officials outlined several other areas the new AI Lab could explore including using predictive models to better estimate future needs for beds, drugs, devices or surgeries and identifying which patients could be more easily treated in the community, reducing the pressure on the NHS and helping patients receive treatment closer to home.

AI tools could also help identify patients most at risk of diseases such as heart disease or dementia, allowing for earlier diagnosis and cheaper, more focused, personalized prevention, NHS officials said.

NHS could also use AI to build systems to detect people at risk of postoperative complications or infections or those requiring follow-up from clinicians, improving patient safety and reducing readmission rates.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement that the NHS is leading the way in harnessing new technology to treat and prevent, from earlier cancer detection to spotting the deadly signs of dementia.

"Today’s funding is not just about the future of care though. It will also boost the frontline by automating admin tasks and freeing up staff to care for patients," Johnson said. "My task is to ensure the NHS has the funding it needs to make a real difference to the lives of staff and patients. Transforming care through artificial intelligence is a perfect illustration of that."