NHS England and the government are to set up an expert group to ensure the NHS takes advantage of the opportunities that artificial intelligence can offer, as set out in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.

The Plan published last week includes a chapter focusing on how to take full advantage of digital and technological innovations, such as speech recognition, robotic process automation, remote monitoring and AI.

In a section titled ‘Upskilling the Workforce’, the plan makes clear the need to “upskill our workforce to maximise the opportunities from technological and digital innovations” and mentions the establishment of the NHS Digital Academy as the home for digital learning and development.

A digital skills assessment tool which addresses digital literacy needs across the workforce will be rolled out by the end of 2023/24, the document confirms. The Digital Learning Solutions platform provides health and social care organisations with access to online digital skills training content created both centrally and locally.

Building on the Topol Review, the Workforce Plan states that “NHS England and government will convene an expert group to ensure the NHS takes advantages of the opportunities that AI can offer”.

The group will build on the previous work of Health Education England (HEE) to work through what skills and training NHS staff may need to make best use of AI, as well as what the anticipated impact of AI may be on the NHS staff groups.

Mark England, chief executive of HN, has welcomed the focus on AI in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. “It is positive to see a partially funded outlook on the workforce of the future, plans around retaining and reforming careers and proposals around how staff can utilise and operate new technology.

“It is right that advanced technology and AI is at the forefront of this workforce plan and we welcome the intention to create an expert group to identify advanced technologies for the NHS,” he added.

“Productivity can be enhanced by entirely new models of care, and our workforce model needs to accommodate this innovation.”

The document also says there is greater potential for AI in diagnostic support, contributing to administrative processes through applications such as speech recognition, predictive health analytics, patient triage and preventative healthcare.

In a more general sense, the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan has three main aims:

  • Train significantly more staff so we have the right number of doctors, nurses and midwives, GPs, dentists, allied health professionals, pharmacy staff and other staff.
  • Retain our dedicated NHS workforce by allowing greater flexibility and career progression and improving culture, leadership and wellbeing, while continuing to focus on equality and inclusion.
  • Reform the way we work so healthcare staff have the right multidisciplinary skills and can harness new digital and technological innovations, allowing them to focus on patient care.

The plan also highlights the potential of virtual wards as well as the proposal to set up a Federated Data Platform (FDP) to give staff easier access to data.