The NHS will receive a £50-million funding boost to develop the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the diagnosis and treatment of serious diseases like cancer.
The investment will go to scaling up work at the NHS’s three existing Digital Pathology and Imaging Artificial Intelligence Centres of Excellence. These were launched in 2018 to develop cutting-edge digital tools to improve the diagnosis of disease.
Each of the three centres, based in Coventry, Leeds and London, will receive a share of the funding. They will deliver digital upgrades to pathology and imaging services across an additional 38 NHS trusts, benefiting 26.5 million patients across England. These services, which include radiology, play a crucial role in diagnosing diseases.
The London Medical Imaging and Artificial Intelligence Centre for Value-Based Healthcare will use its funding to develop AI use in medical imaging and related clinical data. This will help enable faster and earlier diagnosis and investigating how to automate expensive and time-consuming manual reporting.
The centre’s director, Professor Reza Razavi, said: “The additional funding will enable the London Medical Imaging and AI Centre for Value-Based Healthcare to continue its mission to spearhead innovations that will have a significant impact on our patients and the wider NHS.
“Artificial intelligence technology provides significant opportunities to improve diagnostics and therapies as well as reduce administrative costs.
“With machine learning, we can use existing data to help clinicians better predict when a disease will occur, diagnosing and treating it earlier, and personalising treatments, which will be less resource-intensive and provides better health outcomes for our patients.”
The National Pathology Imaging Collaborative (NPIC) in Leeds will use the funding to boost the city’s reputation in digital pathology research further by creating a world-leading centre linking up nine industry partners, eight universities and nine NHS trusts.
National Pathology Imaging Co-operative Director and 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.”
In Coventry, the Pathology Image Data Lake for Analytics, Knowledge and Education (PathLAKE) will use NHS pathology data to drive economic growth in health-related AI.
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The funding will support the UK’s AI and technology industries, by allowing the centres to partner with new and innovative British small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), boosting the country’s economic recovery from coronavirus.
Alongside the clinical improvements, this investment 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 also make diagnosis faster and more accurate, as well as leading to more personalised treatments for patients, saving clinicians’ time.
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. 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.”
The new funding will help the government reach its commitment to save thousands more lives each year and detect three-quarters of all cancers at an early stage by 2028.