The UK NHS (National Health Service) announced the winners of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) in Health and Care Awards today (8 September). A total of 530 applications were received, of which, 42 awards will be made across four phases.

Four phases of winners

For Phase 1, a maximum amount of £150,000 will be given within a period of six to twelve months for interested parties to “show the technical and clinical feasibility” of their proposed concept, product and/or service. For Phase 2, the amount of funding is awarded based on the product/technology over the period of one to three years and for those who intend to “develop and evaluate prototypes of demonstration units and generate early clinical safety/efficacy data”.

The amount of funding are also uncapped for both Phases 3 and 4, as the former “support first real-world testing in health and social care settings to develop evidence of efficacy and preliminary proof of effectiveness” and the latter would “identify medium stage AI technologies that have market authorisation but insufficient evidence to merit large-scale commissioning or development”. Both Phases have the goal to work towards clinical adoption of AI and Phase 4 projects will also undergo rigorous testing and evaluations “to determine efficacy or accuracy and clinical and economic impact”.

The full list of award recipients can found here.

Matt Hancock, UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said the funding “will ensure the NHS can continue to fast-track pioneering AI to the frontline, freeing up clinicians’ time and saving lives”. Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive added the innovations that NHS is funding today have “the potential to save lives by improving screening, cancer treatment and stroke care”.

The AI award was launched by Hancock in January and was managed by NHSx and Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC), part of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence which fosters partnerships across public and private bodies to support medical and healthcare innovations. The £140 million also forms part of the £250 million boost to set up a new National AI Laboratory believed to open this April but was delayed in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

NHS is still in the early stages of AI

Sir Stevens believes NHS is still in the early stages of AI but AI in healthcare will “doubtless rank alongside earlier advances such as the stethoscope, the X ray and the blood test”. Indeed, while NHS’ enthusiasm is at the forefront, its approach remains conservative.

From Innovate UK, the non-departmental public body aims to boost UK’s research innovations; to NHS Innovation Accelerator, supporting the absorption and deployment of new creations across NHS Trusts, and clinical entrepreneur program, which encourage fellow healthcare workers to come up with solutions tackling challenges within the system, all these are top-down initiatives. It is unclear whether NHS is truly celebrating innovations or outsourcing others to solve the challenges faced by the system.

Besides, NHS had suffered a major setback in creating its in-house contact tracing application early on. After spending £11.8 million on development and testing, the application gave way to the Apple and Google version as a result of the heavy criticisms on data protection and privacy concerns. Some experts feel that NHS needs to ensure the medical technologies it adopts are “joined up” from evaluation, adoption, reimbursement, to deployment and review.

The NHS is committed to becoming a World leader in the use of AI and machine learning in medicine and healthcare, let’s hope that its effort is paving the way.

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Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.