AI and Healthcare: key questions and answers

What is artificial intelligence?

The Government’s National AI Strategy, defines artificial intelligence (AI) as ‘machines that perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, especially when the machines learn from data how to do those tasks.’[1]

AI offers the potential to transform the UK’s economic landscape and improve people’s lives across the country, transforming industries and delivering first-class public services.[2]


How can AI be utilised in healthcare and life sciences?

The landscape of healthcare in the United Kingdom is undergoing a profound transformation, with AI emerging as a powerful catalyst for change. In an era marked by unprecedented advances in technology, the intersection of AI, healthcare, and life sciences has paved the way for improved medical practice, research, and patient care. From predictive diagnostics to personalized treatment plans, AI is revolutionising how healthcare is delivered and experienced in the UK.


What is the status of AI in the UK?

At technology conference, CogX, held in September 2023, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, announced that London currently holds the leading position for global tech investment. She revealed that the UK has produced more billion-dollar tech companies than France, Germany, and Sweden combined and is now home to twice as many AI companies as any other European country.[3]

To seek to maintain the UK’s leading position in AI, the Government has established an AI taskforce. The taskforce comprises experts from academia, government, and industry to collaborate with leading tech organisations to gain deeper insights into the risks associated with cutting-edge AI systems.[4]

The UK hosted the first global AI Safety Summit in November 2023 which brought together leading AI nations, technology companies, and civil society groups to collaborate on research and regulatory measures to ensure that AI becomes a positive force in people’s lives.[5]


National AI Strategy: Health

In September 2021, the Government published the National AI Strategy, a 10-year vision to strengthen the UK’s position as a global AI leader.[6] The Strategy highlights the potential AI could have for addressing critical healthcare challenges such as early cancer detection, addressing priorities in the NHS Long Term Plan, and alleviating workforce burdens.[7]

The Strategy acknowledges various organisations actively working to create an environment conducive to the widespread and confident adoption of AI-driven technologies, including the NHS AI Lab, Accelerated Access Collaborative, NICE, and the MHRA.[8]


What are the emerging AI breakthroughs in healthcare?

On 10 August 2023, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, announced 22 new projects that will explore how to develop and use AI in health. These projects will receive financial backing, amounting to £13 million, from the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund. [9]

Funded projects include those led by:[10]

  • University College London’s (UCL): £500,000 to develop a project that will develop a real-time AI ‘assisted decision support framework’ to improve surgical outcomes.
  • University of Surrey: £456,000 will see them work closely with radiologists to develop AI that improves the mammogram analysis process.
  • University of Oxford: £640,000 to accelerate research into a foundation AI model for clinical risk prediction that could determine the likelihood of future health problems based on an individual’s existing conditions.
  • Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh: £644,000 to develop a system that assists trainee surgeons to practice keyhole surgery, with real-time feedback on their movements.

At CogX, the Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP announced a £2 million funding boost for innovative researchers working to tackle some of the hardest-to-treat cancers, including through the use of AI.[11] Four teams from across the UK will receive £500,000 each to drive forward high-risk but high-reward projects that could prove key to curing cancers with poor survival rates, including that of the brain, lungs, and oesophagus.[12]

Among the organisations to receive government-backed Medical Research Council (MRC) funding is King’s College London, to determine how artificial intelligence could read lung scans and more accurately predict whether a cancer is resistant to treatment. The data will then be used to create targeted drugs that selectively kill treatment-resistant cancer cells.[13]


What are the challenges of AI in health?

While the integration of AI in healthcare holds immense promise, it also presents a unique set of challenges. Privacy concerns, data security, and patient consent are at the forefront, as the sensitive nature of health data requires stringent protection. Additionally, there’s a need for regulatory frameworks that balance innovation with ethical considerations and ensuring that AI systems have clear pathways for accountability in case of adverse outcomes is an ongoing challenge.

For the benefits of AI technology to be realised and deployed at scale, organisations must navigate intricate regulatory frameworks effectively, proactively engage with stakeholders, and demonstrate robust evidence to secure public trust and confidence.



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[1] HM Government, ‘National AI Strategy’, 21 September 2021, link

[2] Ibid

[3] Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, ‘Secretary of State speech at CogX Festival’, 12 September 2023, link

[4] Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, ‘Tech entrepreneur Ian Hogarth to lead UK’s AI Foundation Model Taskforce’, 18 June 2023, link

[5] AI Safety Summit, ‘AI Safety Summit Hosted by the UK’, link

[6] Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, ‘National AI Strategy: AI Action Plan’, 18 July 2022, link

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] UKRI, ‘£13 million for 22 AI for health research projects’, 10 August 2023, link

[10] Ibid

[11] Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology, ‘Secretary of State speech at CogX Festival’, 12 September 2023, link

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid



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