Any application of artificial intelligence must go beyond being “icing on a cake” and prove its value if it to be rolled out at scale in the NHS, a national leader has said.

Professor Erika Denton, interim medical director for NHS England’s transformation directorate, argued AI had “huge” potential to transform health and care.

But speaking on day two of Digital Health Rewired, Denton suggested it is too often “an addition” to digital systems rather than something which has proved itself crucial.

“My personal view is that it can’t be icing on a cake,” said Denton, who is also NHSE’s clinical lead for AI. “It has to be something that makes a difference, that we can cost, and there has to be a value-for-money proposition.

“At a time when we’re very cost constrained, I think the technologies we need to early adopt are the ones that deliver on that value for money.”

Cash kickstart

Denton said the funding “kickstart” via the NHS AI Lab’s Artificial Intelligence Health and Care Award has already helped advance a sense of what those technologies were.

She pointed to the example of Brainomix, which is centred on AI in stroke imaging, and which “significantly reduces the pathway of care for people presenting with stroke symptoms”.

“That has a profound impact in terms of morbidity and mortality from stroke.”

NHS England’s aim is to make it easier for local leaders to find these sorts of proven and ethical applications of AI, Denton added.

To that end, the NHS AI Lab has been piloting an AI Deployment Platform (AIDP). It is intended to serve as an ‘app store’ for medical imaging technologies in radiology workflows.

In her role as a practising radiologist, Denton reported she is “inundated” by AI vendors suggesting their products are “great things to buy”.

“But it’s very difficult to find the evidence for how safe they are, how deployable they are, who else is using them. That is what we need to be doing from the centre [through the AIDP].

“It’s not our place to be the developer. But it is our place to keep things safe, and also to deliver that availability piece.

“It’s absolutely right that we can have 1,000 flowers bloom with lots of innovations, but we need to make sure our regulatory and ethical frameworks are appropriate,” Denton concluded.