Theresa May says AI revolution will help NHS prevent thousands of cancer-related deaths by 2033

Medical records, along with information about patients’ habits and genetics, will be cross-referenced with national data to spot those at an early stage of cancer

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 21 May 2018 10:45
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The prime minister will say that late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths
The prime minister will say that late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths

Theresa May is to pledge to revolutionise the health service by deploying artificial intelligence in the NHS, aiming to prevent over 20,000 cancer-related deaths each year by 2033.

In a major speech on science, the prime minister will challenge health charities, the NHS and the artificial intelligence (AI) sector to pool data in order to transform the diagnosis of chronic diseases.

Medical records, along with information about patients’ habits and genetics, will be cross-referenced with national data to spot those at an early stage of cancer, she will say.

Downing Street claims the groundbreaking technology could see at least 50,000 people each year diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, lung or bowel cancer.

Ms May will also announce another target to ensure that five more years of people’s lives will be healthy, independent and active by 2035.

According to Cancer Research, there were over 166,000 deaths from cancer in 2016, with the disease accounting for one in four of all UK deaths.

Addressing an audience in Macclesfield on Monday, the prime minister will say that late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.

She will add: “The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease.

“Achieving this mission will not only save thousands of lives. It will incubate a whole new industry around AI-in-healthcare, creating high-skilled science jobs across the country, drawing on existing centres of excellence in places like Edinburgh, Oxford and Leeds – and helping to grow new ones.”

Ms May's plans were described as “pioneering” by Cancer Research, which said that advances in detection technology “depend on the intelligent use of data and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year”.

Sir Harpal Kumar, the CEO of Cancer Research, said that his organisation estimates that if this infrastructure enabled doctors to reduce late diagnosis by half in the next 15 years then for four types of cancer – lung, bowel, prostate and ovarian – 22,000 fewer people each year would die within five years of diagnosis.

“Our goal is that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer by 2034 and we support efforts that will help us achieve this ambition,” he continued.

“The UK must remain an attractive place for the life sciences industry to invest. If this platform unites government, academia, the charity sector and industry, we will be primed to accelerate innovation and lead the healthcare sector to new heights.”

Ms May’s speech is expected to set out specific details for cancer but also a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and dementia. It is estimated that around one million people in the UK will have dementia by 2025, with projections from Alzheimer's Society suggesting this will increase by two million by 2050.

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Mrs May will add: “Our challenge as a nation, and my determination as prime minister, is not just to lead the world in the fourth industrial revolution – but to ensure that every part of our country powers that success.”

Around £1.4bn has already been invested in research and development for the “grand challenges” programme the targets are being set under.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There is promising evidence that using artificial intelligence to analyse MRI scans could spot early signs of heart disease which may be missed by current techniques.

“This could lead to a quicker diagnosis with more personalised treatment that could ultimately save lives.”

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