The government's new AI strategy could be transformative for health and social care - as long as the risks are understood
"In the UK, cancer is diagnosed later than in other European countries, and AI has an important role to play in changing that." Greg Allen, FCC CEO
At Future Care Capital, we welcome the government’s new 10-year AI strategy. How will this strategy impact on the experience that people have of the health and care system in the future?
It’s good to see that the strategy has a particular focus on health, where AI has a potentially transformative role to play. It’s particularly good to see an emphasis on social care, an often-neglected area.
We’re already seeing how AI is helping doctors improve both the speed and accuracy of diagnoses in a range of diseases. In the UK, cancer is diagnosed later than in other European countries, and AI has an important role to play in changing that.
New uses emerge all the time – in the last week or so we’ve seen stories about how AI is enabling clinicians to practise delicate brain surgery and identify vulnerable patients in difficulty in the community at an early stage.
But for the strategy to succeed, we need a guarantee of funding and whilst the strategy referred to investment already made in AI, it said nothing about funding for the next 10 years.
AI also poses potential risks as well as opportunities. These include making sure that personal data is safeguarded. For example, in May this year, the General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) programme had to be postponed after an online campaign. NHS Digital had planned to collect patient data from GPs, with the intention of using it for planning and research. Campaigners had complained that NHS Digital had failed to inform patients fully of its plans and had not made it clear how to opt out.
It’s also important to make sure that AI systems don’t repeat biases we already see in medicine, such as those relating to gender and ethnicity. Research has shown that artificial intelligence algorithms can replicate existing medical biases – an algorithm trained, for example, on a mainly white population, could lead to patients from ethnic minorities being misdiagnosed.
But in spite of any potential risks associated with AI, the strategy presents an opportunity to transform the way we diagnose and treat patients. That is something to be embraced as that will surely impact on the experience that people have of the health and care they receive in the future. We now look forward to the launch of the National Strategy for AI in Health and Social Care in 2022.