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Develop an NHS AI strategy with responsibility at its core, says think tank

Develop an NHS AI strategy with responsibility at its core, says think tank
By Beth Gault
1 July 2024

The NHS needs an AI strategy with responsibility at its core, according to a report by think tank the Health Foundation.

The report, called Priorities for an AI in healthcare strategy, suggested policymakers and healthcare leaders should address six priorities for the potential of AI to be realised, including meaningful staff and patient engagement, data and digital infrastructure and improving workforce skills (see box).

It said that while AI brings ‘hope’ and ‘excitement’, that there is also ‘concern’ about risk of harm and the exacerbation of health inequalities. In order to tackle these, a strategy needs to be made to coordinate AI innovation that has responsibility ‘at its core’, it added.

The report said: ‘Despite AI’s promise, long-standing challenges with the implementation and evaluation of health care technology continue to slow down service transformation. Not only is there still work to do to get the basic digital infrastructure right – an essential foundation for the effective use of AI – but AI brings its own complications and challenges.’

It added: ‘Crucially, an AI in health care strategy must be developed under the guiding principle of responsibility to ensure the use of AI by the health service is not only legal and ethical but also works for the greater social good. The existing ethics frameworks and guidance are insufficient in this regard. A renewed approach is needed with responsibility at its core to ensure AI works for all.’

Six strategic priorities

  1. The use of AI should be shaped by the public, patients and health care staff to ensure it works for them.
  2. The NHS must focus AI development and deployment in the right areas.
  3. The NHS needs data and digital infrastructure that will enable it to capitalise on the potential of AI.
  4. The use of AI in the NHS must be underpinned by high-quality testing and evaluation.
  5. The NHS needs a clear and consistent regulatory regime for AI.
  6. The health care workforce must have the right skills and capabilities to capitalise on AI.

The report suggested there were currently ‘fragmented efforts’ to implement AI across the NHS in England. It said a strategy could support local innovation, but also set out high priority areas where AI could help tackle key challenges.

Existing regulations are also ‘failing to provide the necessary clarity’ for developers and users, it said, with particular concern among clinicians as to where the clinical liability sits when algorithms are used in clinical decision making.

However, the report recognised that there is work being done to improve the regulatory framework, with a 2023 roadmap by the MHRA to ensure regulatory requirements for software and AI to protect patients, and the AI and Digital Regulations Service from the NHS AI Lab.

It concluded: ‘For government and national NHS bodies, addressing these priorities will require coordination of currently fragmented initiatives and responsibilities, along with action on a range of fronts. A strategy should not only support local innovation but also set out a small number of high-priority areas where AI can help tackle key challenges the NHS faces and focus attention and resources on supporting the demonstration, testing and spread of these tools.

‘It must also enable a clear and consistent regulatory regime and improve the NHS’s capacity to implement, use, evaluate and spread AI. We also argue it is essential to involve patients, the public and NHS staff in both decisions about AI and the design and development of technological innovations themselves.’

Last month, a report suggested that AI could save each NHS doctors and nurse more than four hours of admin time per week.

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