DHSC slashes investment in NHS AI Lab by £111m

  • 3 June 2024
DHSC slashes investment in NHS AI Lab by £111m

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has slashed investment in the NHS AI Lab from a promised £250 million to just £139m, Digital Health News has learned.

The NHS AI Lab programme was launched in August 2019, by then secretary of state for health, Matt Hancock, with a £250m investment to work on challenges in health and care, including earlier cancer detection, new dementia treatments and more personalised care.

However, NHS England told Digital Health News in May 2024 that the DHSC has cut the total budget for the NHS AI Lab to £139m, which includes the £14.5m programme budget for 2024/2025.

NHS AI Lab funding also went to the AI Ethics Initiative, the National Covid-19 Chest Imaging Database, and the AI Regulation programme.

Also included in the budget is £113m invested in 83 projects through the Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award, an NHS AI Lab programme run by the Accelerated Access Collaborative in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research, which made three rounds of awards to AI health start-ups and NHS research teams between 2020 and 2023.

Commenting on the budget cut, Pritesh Mistry, policy fellow for digital technologies at the King’s Fund, told Digital Health News: “A cut in funding is obviously going to have implications for the progress of implementation of AI into the NHS, and one of the challenges with deploying technology into the NHS is that there is a lot of short-term funding.

“I’d say the potential for AI is yet unrealised and is still being explored. Things like the NHS AI Lab can help to make sure we’ve got the right skills and expertise within parts of the system, but we still need to grow the expertise and the capability broadly within the system”.

Evaluation of the impact and effectiveness of the AI projects funded was promised from the outset and NHSE confirmed to Digital Health News that it is about commission an independent evaluation of the £113m of AI investments made.

An NHSE spokesperson said: “The winner of the contract to evaluate the NHS AI Lab programme will be announced in due course, reporting back within the year.”

They added: “NHS patients are already amongst the first to benefit from artificial intelligence which is transforming healthcare, from strokes being treated earlier to providing patients with their personalised risk of a heart attack – allowing their clinicians to intervene earlier.

“These advances have been made possible through the work of the NHS AI Lab, working with partners, to safely test these new technologies and develop new regulatory frameworks.”

The evaluation contract comes as greater Cabinet Office involvement in AI has emerged, with a collaboration charter between the Incubator for Artificial Intelligence (i.AI) and NHSE signed on 25 April 2024 to support the use of AI in the NHS.

According to a DHSC press release, the charter will focus on non-clinical AI solutions and will not develop new AI-based medical devices or products.

It added that “during the course of this collaborative work, data controllership will remain with the NHS at all times, and i.AI will not have access to identifiable patient data”.

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