Findings from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request suggest that more than half of NHS Trust are implementing artificial intelligence-based technologies for clinical care and patient diagnosis.

Data obtained by cloud data services company NetApp on 61 NHS trust found that 52% were already deploying artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, with a further 16% planning to roll them out within the next two years.

Of those trusts using AI, 20% said they were deploying the technology within clinical care settings, while 16% reported to be using the technology for patient diagnostics.

Meanwhile, three-quarters of respondents (75%) said they had appointed a leader for artificial intelligence at their organisation.

In August, the UK government pledged £250m for the formation of a national AI lab, which – it is hoped – will underpin the UK’s efforts to become a world leader in the field.

The lab will sit within NHSX, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative,

NetApp quizzed trusts on their current and future use of artificial intelligence-related technologies to deliver health services, and how mature their data infrastructure is in delivering successful AI projects.

It found that hospitals were increasingly harnessing technologies such as speech recognition (28%), robotic process automation (25%) and machine learning (13%) to ease the pressure placed on healthcare workers, improve patient care and accelerate the delivery of personalised medicines.

The ethical use of patient data was found to be “at the forefront” of the trusts’ minds when considering AI, with 59% having already reviewed or planning to review their data governance policies.

George Kurian, NetApp president and CEO, said: “Artificial intelligence has limitless potential in healthcare services and it’s encouraging to see the technology being used in half of NHS trusts.

“As healthcare moves towards preventative treatment and personalised medicines, artificial intelligence leaders in the NHS have a complex challenge to break through cultural and organisational barriers when it comes to providing healthcare professionals the access to data they require.”

While these developments are encouraging, there is still more work to be done to improve access to data in order for their AI projects to succeed.

Only a third (33%) of trusts that responded to NetApp’s FOI request had “full and complete” access to the data required for artificial intelligence deployments, while 38% of trusts said they had not invested financially in any AI projects.

It is also worth noting that the term ‘AI’ is much contested – much of the technologies labelled as such would more accurately be labelled as machine learning or analytics.

While the technology holds much promise in healthcare, organisations have been advised that AI will not offer a magic plaster for all the problems faced by the industry.

“Progress is being made and the further deployment of AI-powered technologies – such as speech recognition and machine learning – will result in more alleviation of pressure on staff, accelerating innovation and reducing costs,” added Kurian.

“The world of artificial intelligence starts with data, and we are helping healthcare organisations who want to succeed build their own data fabric.”