The NHS should embrace a wider use of technology and data to help save lives, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking at the Founders Forum Health Tech Summit at London Tech Week, Mr Hancock said the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning could improve the speed and accuracy of diagnoses.
The Health Secretary announced a new £50 million investment in new AI products, including one which can more rapidly and accurately assess breast cancer screening scans and another which can turn a patient’s smartphone into a medical-grade device for monitoring kidney disease.
It is part of a wider £140 million investment scheme to find and create new AI programmes to improve patient health and care in the NHS.
“I’ve seen for myself the use of machine learning to improve the diagnosis of cancer in collaboration with oncologists,” Mr Hancock said.
“I’ve seen the ability of a machine learning tool to be able to highlight the areas that need to be taken in an operation of cancer surgery.
“We’re seeing, in this award, work to bring AI to improve kidney disease diagnosis, and many other diagnoses and then improvement of surgical and medical tracking techniques.”
The Health Secretary said “improving the environment for innovation” was the first of three areas of focus for the NHS going forward.
Another area of focus was the better use of data in the UK’s healthcare system, he added.
Mr Hancock said the UK must ensure that the data architecture of the NHS was “interoperable” and high quality enough so that it “protects privacy whilst allowing for research and allowing the use of that data to find insights and then apply them in a clinical setting”.
Alongside this, he said changing the culture of the use of health technology and data within the NHS would be the third key area of focus for the Government.
Mr Hancock highlighted a recent Control of Patient Information (COPI) notice issued to NHS Digital which he said changed the regulation on the use of data in the NHS to say that “as long as you protect your data rigorously, what matters far less is the format in which that data is stored or the particular application in which data is transmitted”.
“We are going to go further and simplify those rules and crucially put those rules in the hands of those working across the NHS to change the culture to see data as an asset on which we can build the future of the NHS,” he added.
“Rather than data that has to be protected and hidden away, our privacy needs to be protected, data needs to be used to save lives – changing that culture is absolutely critical.”
The Health Secretary concluded his keynote saying the aim of these changes was to not only tackle Covid-19 but improve the general health of the country.
“All of these tasks are with the goal of helping to save lives and improve people’s health,” he said.
“I care about technology and health tech because I care about people.
“Technology is a means to an end, the end is better life chances, the end is tackling Covid and of course finding a vaccine, the end is spotting links that couldn’t be spotted without the modern use of health technology.”