AI in UK healthcare: NHS could offer surgical robots and predictive diagnoses

Funding pledge comes ahead of first major international summit on the responsible use of artificial intelligence

The government has invested £13 million to support the investigation into how AI could benefit health care. PA
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Artificial intelligence-powered equipment is currently the focus of 22 projects spanning universities and NHS trusts across the UK, which include research into semi-autonomous surgical robotics for tumour removal and predictive health analysis based on existing conditions.

The government has invested £13 million ($16.5 million) to support the investigation into how AI could benefit health care.

Announced by Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, the move coincides with the appointment of two leading experts who have been given the task of leading the preparations for the first major international summit on the responsible use of AI.

One of the major recipients of the initiative is University College London’s Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences, which will receive more than £500,000.

The project aims to develop a real-time AI “assisted decision support framework” to enhance surgical outcomes, minimise complications following surgery and reduce recovery time.

“AI will revolutionise the way we live, including our healthcare system. That’s why we’re backing the UK’s fantastic innovators to save lives by boosting the front line of our NHS and tackling the major health challenges of our time,” Ms Donelan said.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said in support of the funding: “AI can help the NHS improve outcomes for patients, with breakthroughs leading to earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments and faster recovery.

“It’s already being used in the NHS in a number of areas, from improving diagnosis and treatment for stroke patients to identifying those most at risk of a heart attack.

“This funding is yet another boost to help the UK lead the way in healthcare research.”

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The funding is part of the UK Research and Innovation Technology Missions Fund announced in the Science and Technology Framework.

The UK is also set to host a landmark summit on AI later this year, which will convene world leaders, technology firms and academics to discuss the responsible deployment of the new technology.

Matt Clifford, chief executive of Entrepreneur First and chairman of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, and Jonathan Black, Heywood Fellow at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, have been given the task of spearheading efforts to bring together AI leaders, tech companies and experts from around the world.

They will serve as representatives of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, co-ordinating efforts to ensure the summit yields a comprehensive strategy for mitigating the potential pitfalls of AI technology.

Mr Clifford will be carrying out his role as the Prime Minister's representative in a separate capacity to chair of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

“The UK has a proud history of demonstrating diplomatic leadership on the most important issues of the day and Matt and Jonathan’s experience and expertise means that they are perfectly placed to lay the groundwork ahead of talks this year on safe and responsible AI,” Ms Donelan said.

“We’re already a leading nation when it comes to artificial intelligence – and this summit will help cement our position as the home of safe innovation.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “Artificial intelligence will fundamentally alter every aspect of human life.

“As AI rapidly evolves, we need a global approach that seizes the opportunities that AI poses while grasping the challenges and minimising the risks.

“No country will be untouched by AI, so with the support of our two expert representatives, the UK is proud to play a leadership role in the global effort to address the challenges and opportunities of AI.”

Updated: August 10, 2023, 2:47 AM