The NHS has been urged to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) in order to support the prevention plan unveiled today by Health Secretary Matt Hancock. According to an expert in the field, NHS AI is a vital tool in the move towards preventing disease.

“Currently, ten times more money is spent on treating disease than prevention – £97bn of public money versus £8bn trying to prevent it,” said Mark Frankish, data scientist at SAS UK & Ireland.

“These numbers clearly do not stack up. To address the shortfall in prevention, artificial intelligence must be the next major investment area for the NHS.”

How NHS AI would work

The NHS is in a highly beneficial position to take advantage of AI technology because of the vast body of data it has access to.

“By introducing deep learning and machine learning, data from past case notes, biomedical imaging and health monitors could be used to advance the use of predictive diagnostics and improve response times in patient care, improving the NHS’ forecasting abilities,” explained Frankish.

However, there are barriers to the effective use of NHS data – and it is here that the government will likely need to provide the most investment.

“Although the NHS has always been a relentless producer of data it has a longstanding problem with knowing how to store and use it effectively,” he said.

“To ensure the right care is delivered to patients there needs to be an improvement in decision-making with the data available. By investing in a technology-driven, value-focused model of care, the NHS will be able to improve its ability to analyse large volumes of data and focus more on preventing disease.”

NHS AI is already showing its value

The technology is already being used in a limited capacity in the NHS, and is already showing significant benefits.

“According to the tech investment plans already announced by Theresa May, the government claims it will see “at least 50,000 people” each year being able to get an early diagnosis of several cancers, which it believes will save around 20,000 lives each year by 2033,” said Frankish.

“Now we need to build on that foundation.”

The NHS has previously been urged to embrace automation and robotics to assist with the growing challenge of an ageing population.