Transformation Directorate

The NHS AI Lab - one year on

The NHS Artificial Intelligence Lab was established to ensure the NHS and social care system can benefit from the advances in Artificial Intelligence. But when the NHS AI Lab was announced in August 2019, few could have foreseen a global pandemic and the vital role digital technologies would play in delivering health and care during this difficult time.

The pandemic has changed the way that the public interact with the NHS with NHS 111 and NHS 111 online the default contact routes and 99% of practices now offering video consultations, up from 3% at the start of the year. It has also galvanised new collaborations across hospitals and services and spurred innovation across the wider health and care sector. Indeed, new technologies, treatments and working practices which might have taken months, even years, to embed have been fast tracked in a matter of weeks. As part of this, there has been ever increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence’s potential to address challenges; from screening and appointment rescheduling to enabling doctors to make quicker diagnosis and offering tools for patients to look after their health at home.

So what have we been doing?

In April, we launched the National Covid-19 Chest Imaging Database, a centralised UK imaging database, to help Covid-19 research and support the development of technologies to enable the best care for patients hospitalised with infection. The database currently contains over 29,000 images from 80 UK sites, and is already being used by technology companies and research groups to train algorithms. We will soon be able provide a validation dataset to test the performance of such algorithms, ensuring that they are safe for use, reliable, and perform as expected on an unseen dataset that is representative of the UK population.

We were delighted to announce the first round of the AI in Health and Care Award winners on 8th September. The award makes £140 million available over three years to accelerate the testing and evaluation of the most promising AI technologies which meet the strategic aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. We have now allocated £50m to 42 very promising AI technologies for testing and scaling in the NHS. Innovations include tools to help doctors diagnose and manage  cancer, chronic kidney disease and stroke, as well as AI systems to reduce the burden on the workforce by assisting with triaging and referrals. We received over 500 applications for the first round of the AI Award and we hope to see many more innovators apply for the second round when it opens in the Autumn.

The NHS AI Lab’s role is to support health and care staff navigate the adoption of AI. To ensure we also assist commissioners who are trying to understand if AI is right for their organisations,  we have now published a comprehensive Buyer’s Guide to AI in Health and Care which highlights 10 questions that should be considered to make well-informed decisions about buying AI products.

What is next for the NHS AI lab?

We are holding a virtual event on 24 September. If you can attend, you will learn more about the AI Lab’s focal programmes moving forward - all of which are designed to address development and adoption challenges. You will also hear from some of the successful applicants of round one of the AI Award and from experts and staff who have tackled the challenge of developing or implementing AI in the NHS.

In addition to the technologies being taken forward through the AI Award,  the NHS AI Lab’s Skunkworks will trial innovative ideas in AI, working with the health and care community to take ideas from scratch to proof of concept. We are starting close to home - crowdsourcing ideas from across NHSX where our teams have seen the potential for AI to solve a real problem for the health system.

Finally, as the use of AI grows, innovators need clear regulatory and ethical guidance to encourage the development of AI systems that meet best practice standards and fit the needs of the NHS and social care. The NHS AI Lab is working with regulators to create a joined up regulatory advice and approval service and enhanced post market surveillance and guidance on what a good service that uses AI looks like.

We are hiring!

Our team is growing fast and we are looking to recruit a wide selection of talent across a range of positions including:

  • Data Scientists
  • Programme Managers
  • Data Engineers
  • Content Manager
  • Tech Lead
  • Project Officers

We are looking for people who share our ambition to create a sustainable health and care system that strives to achieve better outcomes, equality and fairness for all. We want to support AI technologies that improve the quality of health and care services, while building a robust ethical and regulatory framework to ensure patient and citizen safety.

As well as promoting equality and fairness within our work, we are committed to creating an inclusive and diverse workforce. It is important for our workforce to reflect the diverse range of communities we serve; so we actively encourage applications from people from underrepresented groups including BAME.

The first of these roles are already up on the NHSX job opportunities page and more will be uploaded over the next few weeks. If you think one of these looks right for you and you’re excited about the potential for AI in health and care, then please apply.

If you want to hear more, please sign up to the NHS AI Lab’s virtual event on the 24th September!