UK touts £21M fund to extend AI deeper into the National Health Service

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The AI revolution has swung full-force into the mainstream conversation this year, powered by consumer-friendly generative AI applications such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT. But while such tools are raising myriad legal and ethical questions, the emergence of new and powerful large language models (LLMs) also have the potential to revolutionize healthcare.

This is why the U.K. government today announced that it’s committing £21 million ($26.75 million) to National Health Service (NHS) trusts, which can apply for funding to “accelerate the deployment of the most promising AI tools” in hospitals across the country.

It’s worth noting that the NHS has courted controversy in the past over its dabblings in the AI realm, with a U.K. data regulator ruling back in 2017 that a data-sharing partnership the NHS had struck with Google’s DeepMind’s broke privacy laws. This led to a class-action lawsuit against Google, which was ultimately tossed out by a U.K. court earlier this year.

But with recent advances in AI and LLMs, the U.K. has been pushing to position itself at the center of the AI gold rush, launching “global” summits, million-pound prizes for AI development, tech company-friendly guidelines (rather than legislation) around AI development and a £100 million pot to develop AI models for use in areas such as education and healthcare. And earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that AI juggernauts OpenAI, Google’s DeepMind and Anthropic were to provide “early or priority access” to all their AI models as a means to support research into evaluation and safety of the AI.

Decision-support

Now, the U.K. has launched its so-called AI Diagnostic Fund to bring “the most promising AI imaging and decision-support tools” to diagnose and treat patients with heart conditions, cancer and strokes. Indeed, the government said that it wants to deploy AI tools across all NHS stroke networks by the end of this year, having already used AI to support clinical decision making in for several years already — prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which stretched the NHS to its limits.

“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,” said Dr. Deb Lowe, national clinical director for stroke medicine at NHS England, in a statement. “We are already seeing the positive impact of AI decision support software on stroke care, where rapid assessment and treatment are of the essence, and we now have real world evidence of the benefit for NHS patients.”

On top of that, the government says that it’s also looking to use AI to analyze chest x-rays, which will help clinicians detect early signs of lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.K., killing more than 35,000 people each year.

According to the U.K.’s department of health and social care, NHS Trusts will be able to apply for funds for “any AI diagnostic tool” that Trusts see fit to deploy, though it will have to justify its request in terms of value-for-money.

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