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New wave of AI technologies in £36 million funding boost

Accelerated Access Collaborative logo, National Institute for Health Research logo, NHSX logo

Published: 16 June 2021

Thousands of patients are set to benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) technologies thanks to £36 million for new research announced by NHSX and NIHR today.

Technology that can detect cancer and an app that provides AI mental health support are among 38 newly funded innovations to be tested across the health service to help speed up diagnosis and improve care.

The new research projects are part of the £140 million [2023 update: £123m] Artificial Intelligence in Health and Care Award, which supports AI solutions across the whole development pathway, from initial feasibility to clinical implementation.

The award is part of the NHS AI Lab and is managed by the Accelerated Access Collaborative and delivered in partnership with NHSX and the NIHR. Over 17,000 stroke patients and over 27,000 patients with diabetes or high blood pressure have already benefited from the first round of funding by the AI Award.

The 38 projects being supported in the second round include AI-powered innovations that can rapidly and accurately detect lung, skin and prostate cancer and osteoporosis. These innovations will be tested and scaled, helping clinicians deliver the right treatment faster.

For the first time an AI based mental health app will also be tested to see if it can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help identify those patients experiencing severe mental health difficulties for further treatment. 

The round two funded AI projects also include:

  • An algorithm from BeholdAI for suspected lung cancer
  • DERM by Skin Analytics supporting clinicians to diagnose skin cancer
  • The Paige Prostate cancer detection tool to help pathologists identify cancers and their spread in digital images
  • Zebra Medical’s Bone Health Solutions tool for analysing existing CT scans to look for previously undiagnosed spinal fractures
  • The Mental health app Wysa, powered by an AI chatbot and a series of self-care exercises to provide support and help people develop strategies to manage their mental health and improve their resilience.

Projects range from testing initial concepts to real-world deployments of technologies with patients that could help solve both clinical and operational challenges across the NHS, including reducing waiting times, improving early diagnosis and saving staff time.

The award is designed to help accelerate the testing and evaluation of AI technologies in the NHS so patients can reap the benefits from faster and more personalised diagnosis to greater efficiency in screening services.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “AI has the potential to completely revolutionise every part of how we approach healthcare, from how we diagnose diseases and the speed at which our doctors and nurses deliver treatments to how we support people’s mental health.

“The 38 projects we are backing reflect the UK’s trailblazing approach to innovation in the healthcare sector, and could help us take a leap forward in the quality of care and the speed of disease diagnoses and treatment in the NHS.

“Confronted with this global pandemic, our tech sector has risen to the challenge and upended how we do things through innovations to support people to test from home, complete remote consultations and diagnose issues safely.”

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, said: “The NHS is determined to harness the power of new innovations and digital technologies to help save lives and improve services for patients across the country.

“AI is already delivering for patients today in hospitals and GP surgeries, the 38 projects supported today could each make a further difference to the care we provide.”

AI is already making a difference for patients and clinicians. In September 2020, awards totalling approximately £50 million were given to 42 AI technology projects, including to:

  • Brainomix
  • Kheiron Medical Technologies

The forthcoming Data Strategy for Health and Care will set out how the UK aims to become a world leader in the proportionate, innovation-friendly regulation of AI technologies. 

The NHS AI Lab has also launched the AI Ethics Initiative to ensure that AI products used in the NHS and care settings will not exacerbate health inequalities, including working with the Ada Lovelace Institute to design and trial algorithmic impact assessments.

The AI in Health and Care Award will distribute £140 million over three years, with the next round of applications set to open on 29 June 2021.

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