No strategy for AI being adopted in the NHS, says Health Foundation

  • 3 July 2024
No strategy for AI being adopted in the NHS, says Health Foundation

The Health Foundation has uncovered a worrying lack of concrete strategy for adopting AI within the NHS after scrutinising manifestos from the main political parties.

This comes despite mentions of artificial intelligence in the major parties’ proposals, with all setting out aspirations to reap the benefits that AI could deliver.

In a blog post from 29 June, The Health Foundation highlights the Conservatives’ promise to use AI to free up doctors’ and nurses’ time. It also praises Labour’s plans to create a new regulatory innovation office and to introduce binding regulation on those companies developing the most powerful AI models.

The Health Foundation spotlights some AI projects already implemented in the NHS – including MHRA’s Software and AI as a Medical Device Change and the NHS AI Lab’s AI and Digital Regulations Service. But, it points out, “these isolated initiatives currently do not exceed the sum of their parts because of the lack of an overarching strategy for AI in health care”.

In May this year, Digital Health News learned that planned investment in the NHS AI Lab, has been slashed from a promised £250 million to just £139 million, further limiting AI’s wider adoption.

With a distinct lack of any AI roadmap from any of the main political parties as to how they will achieve their AI ambitions, the Health Foundation is now calling on the next government to prioritise the formation of a strategy for AI in health care.

An earlier report from The Health Foundation, Priorities for an AI in Health Care Strategy, published 26 June 2024, set out six key priorities it believes policymakers and health care leaders need to address through such a strategy: meaningful public and staff engagement; effective priority setting; data and digital infrastructure that’s fit for purpose; high-quality testing and evaluation; clear and consistent regulation; and the right workforce skills and capabilities.

The lack of a comprehensive AI strategy – echoed in the manifestos – is spurring the Health Foundation on, to call for the prioritisation of an AI roadmap. It notes there are key challenges to overcome, including “building public and staff consensus around AI in health care, making the NHS’s data and digital infrastructure fit for purpose, supporting the demonstration, testing and spread of AI tools, creating clear and consistent regulation, and ensuring the right workforce skills and capabilities”.

It recommends focusing the “scarce” attention and resources carefully, by combining supporting local innovation with a small volume of high-level AI use priorities to allow for the biggest impact.

The potential benefits of AI in healthcare are undeniable. However, without a well-defined roadmap, the NHS risks haphazardly implementing this powerful technology, potentially hindering progress and jeopardising patient care. As the Health Foundation stresses, a strategic and collaborative approach is essential to unlock the true potential of AI for the NHS.

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