Transformation Directorate

NHS AI Lab To Speed Up Cancer And Heart Care

NHS patients will be among the first in the world to benefit from new artificial intelligence (AI) technologies thanks to a £50m boost announced today.

A range of AI-powered innovations which can rapidly and accurately analyse breast cancer screening scans and assess emergency stroke patients will be tested and scaled, helping clinicians deliver the right treatment faster. 

Take-home technology could also see patients given devices and software that can turn their smartphone into a clinical grade medical device for monitoring kidney disease, or a wearable patch to detect irregular heartbeats, one of the leading causes of strokes and heart attacks.

The NHS has been at the forefront of the AI revolution with the creation of the NHS AI Lab, with these tools and products part of the £140m AI in Health and Care Award programme, each receiving a share of over £50m. The award is managed by the Accelerated Access Collaborative in partnership with NHSX and the National Institute for Health Research.

The package also includes funding to support the research, development and testing of promising ideas which could be used in the NHS in future to help speed up diagnosis or improve care for a range of conditions including sepsis, cancer and Parkinson’s.

The NHS is committed to becoming a world leader in the use of AI and machine learning, aiming to reap the benefits that range from faster and more personalised diagnosis to greater efficiency in screening services.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, said: “The NHS has and always will rely first and foremost on the clinical expertise of our staff, but the innovations we’re funding today have the potential to save lives by improving screening, cancer treatment and stroke care for NHS patients across the country.”

"We're still in the early stages of AI, but when the latest chapter in the history of medicine comes to be written, AI in health care will doubtless rank alongside earlier advances such as the stethoscope, the X ray and the blood test."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The NHS has always spearheaded world-leading technologies that can transform and save lives, so it is vital we continue to harness the full potential of modern digital advances to help patients living with life-limiting illness and support our hardworking NHS staff.

“During the pandemic we have all seen the positive impact new technology can have – from our next generation rapid testing, to our machine-learning tools helping the NHS predict where beds and oxygen are needed - and I’m determined we continue down this path.

“Today’s funding will ensure the NHS can continue to fast-track pioneering artificial intelligence to the frontline, freeing up clinicians’ time and saving lives.”

Today’s announcement supports a range of technologies at different stages of development, from initial concepts to real-world tests.

AI products will be trialled in several NHS organisations before potentially being adopted across the health service.

Each product will undergo robust testing and independent evaluation to ensure they are effective, accurate, safe and value for money.

The AI in Health and Care Award forms part of the NHS AI Lab and is managed by the Accelerated Access Collaborative in partnership with NHSX and the National Institute for Health Research.

Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX, said: “Throughout the pandemic, the NHS has shown how digital technology can transform the service it provides, quickly and safely, but we have a long way to go.

“The NHS AI Lab was set up to drive the adoption of data-driven technologies, with the goal of enhancing the care our staff can give their patients, and these awards should give that effort a serious boost.”

Lord Darzi, Chair of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, said: “The AAC and the AI in Health and Care Award are helping to cement the UK’s international reputation as the perfect location to trial and test new technologies.

“Today we have backed a range of innovators from academia, industry and the NHS to develop and deliver AI tools and products that can transform our health system and ensure we continue to be a world leader in medical science and research.”

Subject to contracting, successful products to be spread include:

  • Healthy IO - will spread their AI powered app that turns a smartphone into a clinical grade medical device capable of detecting albuminuria, an early warning sign of Chronic Kidney Disease which could help patients with diabetes.

  • Irhythm Technologies - will spread their wearable ECG monitoring patch and service that utilises AI-led processing and analysis to help diagnose atrial fibrillation.

  • Brainomix will share their digital tools, used to assess emergency stroke patients, to a number of NHS sites following recent successful deployment at Royal Berkshire NHS Trust.

The NHS will also support the first real-world tests of technologies including a system that can detect prostate cancer in biopsy tissue slides, and a device which uses an algorithm to immediately diagnose heart failure.

The NHS AI Lab, announced by the prime minister last year, is a key part of the efforts to increase the use of innovative new technologies in the health service.

As well as testing and scaling AI products, the NHS AI Lab has also published updated guidance to help local health and care organisations ensure they ask the right questions when looking to buy AI products.

The new AI Buyer's Guide will help local NHS bodies walk the line between the exciting possibilities presented by these technologies with the need to ensure that any products our organisations buy meet the highest standards of safety and effectiveness.

The AI in Health and Care Award will distribute £140m over three years, with the next round of applications set to open in the autumn.