UK Promises $27M to National Health Service to Deploy Generative AI for Healthcare

The British National Health Service will soon deploy generative AI tools for identifying and treating illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and strokes, funded by the government’s new AI Diagnostic Fund. NHS Trusts can apply for grants to buy and embed AI diagnostic tools from developers in hospitals if approved by the Fund. The British Health Secretary has laid a marker for making generative AI assistance available in every stroke treatment center in the country by the end of the year.


The British health ministry designed the AI Diagnostic Fund to bring AI into the analysis of medical tests like chest X-Rays and brain scans. The AI is trained on medical databases to look for and report indicators of health problems like lung cancer or incipient stroke. The AI doesn’t replace human doctors, but it can run its diagnosis more quickly and may be able to spot the oncoming issue earlier. Even if it’s wrong,  an AI assistant can reduce how long it takes to sort through medical images. The NHS found very promising results in its initial tests. Some stroke victims have received treatment in half the time it might normally take, thanks to the speed of the AI diagnosis.

“The NHS is already harnessing the benefits of AI across the country in helping to catch and treat major diseases earlier, as well as better managing waiting lists so patients can be seen quicker,” NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said. “As we approach our milestone 75th birthday, this is another example of how NHS is continuing its proud history of adopting the latest proven technology to deliver better care for patients, and better value for taxpayers.”

Generative Health

Britain’s interest in boosting the NHS with AI and other digital technology goes back years. The NHS has tested many ideas described in a 100-page NHS report from 2019. For instance, Amazon worked with the NHS to enable Alexa to respond to health questions with answers culled from the NHS website. The hospital partnerships are reminiscent of an earlier attempt to combine AI medical diagnostics and the NHS which made a big splash before quietly fizzling out. Health tech developer Babylon signed a ten-year deal in 2020 with the Royal Wolverhampton National Health Service Hospital Trust (RWT) to provide its app for free to patients. Babylon’s app includes a chatbot it claims can diagnose symptoms and guide users into figuring out if they need to go to the hospital or not, with an eye toward reducing strain on NHS staff. Babylon pulled out of the deal after two years, citing lower-than-expected revenue because of more frequent usage than anticipated, according to a Wired UK report. How much the NHS paid Babylon isn’t public, but it’s notable that the NHS made a point of promising to investigate the tech firms working with hospitals before granting any funds.

The new NHS program is part of Britain’s recent rush to engage with generative AI in more than just healthcare. The government has been pitching itself as a potential hub for the technology and its regulatory development, starting with a ChatGPT-generated speech in Parliament last year, followed by international meetings and pledges to fund AI developers. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently gave a speech that touted these efforts and boasted that OpenAI, Google DeepMind, and Anthropic have all inked deals to give the UK “early or priority access” to upcoming LLMS and AI tools to give Britain an edge in researching their utility and safety from a public policy perspective.

“Artificial intelligence is already transforming the way we deliver healthcare and AI tools are already making a significant impact across the NHS in diagnosing conditions earlier, meaning people can be treated more quickly,” British Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said. “As we celebrate the NHS’s 75th birthday and look ahead to the future, I’m focused on adopting the latest cutting-edge technology across our health and care system to ensure we can continue to deliver the best care for our patients and cut waiting times, which is one of the government’s five priorities.”

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