Nine of the most promising artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare technologies are to receive nearly £16 million in government funding to accelerate research in areas that include systems to run cancer checks, diagnose rare diseases and identify women at highest risk of premature birth.

The funding is awarded through the third round of the AI in Health and Care Awards, which is accelerating the testing and deployment of the most promising AI technologies.

The awards were set up in 2019 to develop AI technology focused on helping patients manage long-term conditions, improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, and ultimately help tackle the Covid backlogs and cut waiting lists.

They are delivered by the NHS AI Lab, which was set up to accelerate the safe, ethical and effective adoption of AI in health and care, as well as by the Accelerated Access Collaborative and the National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Up to £1 million in funding has also been set aside for evaluation of the technologies. Successful technologies will be fast-tracked into the NHS to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnoses, tackle waiting lists and free up clinician time.

Tens of thousands of patients across the country could benefit from quicker, earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments for a range of conditions as a result of the investment, the Department for Health and Social Care says.

Potential to relieve burden on NHS

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Artificial Intelligence has the potential to speed up diagnoses and treatments and free up time for our doctors and nurses so they can focus on caring for patients.

“Around 300,000 people have already benefited from companies supported by our AI awards, with tens of thousands more set to benefit.”

Start-up Ibex has received more than £1.5 million for its AI-driven algorithm, Galen Breast, which runs checks for breast cancer. The technology analyses images of tissue extracts, helping pathologists detect cancer, so they can complete diagnoses more quickly.

It will be trialled at Nottingham University Hospitals, Cambridge University Hospitals, North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and University Hospitals Birmingham.

Another winner, medical device company Medtronic, has been awarded £2.5 million to further develop an AI-based medical device called GI Genius, which has been trained to process colonoscopy images and detect signs of colon cancer, enabling earlier, more accurate diagnoses.

Digital health start-up Mendelian has been awarded £1.4 million to support an AI system that identifies patients with undiagnosed rare diseases, and recommends the best management options.

The winners also include a consortium led by the University of Bristol that has already developed an online medical tool, Tommy’s App, that is identifying pregnant women most at risk of giving birth prematurely or of developing complications that could lead to stillbirth. The team will receive nearly £1.9 million to build on the clinical decision tool.

Dominic Cushnan, director of AI, imaging and deployment at the NHS Transformation Directorate, said: “The AI Award is helping to develop the clinical and economic evidence for AI technologies we need to help build confidence amongst the NHS workforce that these technologies can not only free up some of their time but safely support them in providing care for patients.”

Cushnan is a keynote speaker on the AI, Data and Analytics Stage at Digital Health Rewired 2023 on 14 March. He will ask in his speech whether AI can save the NHS.