UK government earmarks $122 million on AI for healthcare

UK government earmarks $122 million on AI for healthcare

Dementia care and mental health are first on the list of targets for a new grant program from the British government toward the use of AI in the healthcare sector.

Credit: Luke Stackpoole

The government of the UK will spend approximately £100 million ($122 million) in the coming years to help develop AI technologies for the healthcare and life sciences sectors, as part of a formalized AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission.

The program, announced last week in a speech by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, will look to tackle specific healthcare issues that represent areas of particular concern for the British government. One such issue is precision diagnosis and treatment for dementia, and the government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said in a statement posted this week that the idea would be to use AI to identify healthcare data trends that could help identify individuals at risk for dementia.

“By using the power of AI to support the growing pipeline of new dementia therapies, we will ensure the best and most promising treatments are selected to go forwards, and that patients receive the right treatments that work best for them,” the DSIT statement said.

Other types of mental health issues are also in the crosshairs for the British government’s AI spending, the DSIT noted. Conversational AI, it said, can help support mental healthcare sufferers and provide basic guidance and care advice, with the ability to “escalate” cases to human therapists as necessary. The idea here, according to the DSIT, is to reduce wait times for the country’s National Health Service.

The government apparently sees the program as a joint effort between itself, academia, doctors and the private sector, having invited proposals for the $121 million in its announcement of the program. In addition to specific use cases that are potentially addressable by current-generation AI systems, the plan is to fund AI research that could create general-use AI technology for wide applicability across “a range of health challenges.”

The new funding adds momentum to the UK’s efforts to integrate AI technology into its state healthcare systems, according to Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay.

“This is on top of the progress we have already made on AI deployment in the NHS, with AI tools now live in over 90% of stroke networks in England – halving the time for stroke victims to get the treatment in some cases, helping to cut waiting times,” he said.

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