The government has published a code of conduct on artificial intelligence and data-driven technologies in healthcare, with a view to creating a “safe and trusted environment in which innovation can flourish”.

Speaking at this week’s Health and Care Innovation Expo, health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said AI and machine learning was a field moving “at lightning speed” and with “tremendous potential across the healthcare sector”.

He said the principles in the code would constitute “rules of engagement” between industry and the health and care system as each seeks to realise this potential.

“These principles provide a basis to deepen the trust between patients, clinicians, researchers and innovators,” he told delegates.

The code – which for now is in initial consultation stage – details 10 principles to which those working on healthcare data-driven technologies should adhere.

The overall aim is said to be to ensure a fair deal for the NHS in any future partnerships, to set clear guidelines on how patient data is protected, and to accelerate the introduction of proven technologies.

Among the principles is a requirement to present “a clear business case highlighting outputs, outcomes, benefits and performance indicators, and how exactly the product will result in better provision and/or outcomes for people and the health and care system”.

Interestingly, the document reveals the government is actively working to create “a trusted approvals scheme Kitemark for digital health and care products, so that commissioners and those making procurement decisions can do so in an informed way”.

A principle of being “fair, transparent and accountable about what data you are using” is also central to the code.

Government commitments

The document in turn lists five commitments from the government. There are pledges to simplify the regulatory and funding landscape – “to ensure it neither stifles innovation nor risks patient safety” – and to encourage the system to adopt innovation, in part through a review of contracting and procurement arrangements”.

A key aim of the code, on which views are currently being invited, is to allow the government to guide the development of new technology so products are suitable for the NHS.

Digital Health News reported earlier in the year that a code of conduct on AI was expected. While there are many proponents of the use of AI and big data analysis in the NHS – including Lord O’Shaughnessy himself – it has proved a controversial field.

DeepMind’s partnership with Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust may have resulted in an acute injury alert app some brand “phenomenal”, but it also led to a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office that data protection law had been breached.

And a recent independent review of the company concluded it should be “more transparent about its business model”.

The national project, meanwhile, was meant to create a pool of anonymised data which researchers could use to find better treatments.

But it was scrapped amid widespread concerns about patient consent and how the data would be used.