National CCIO says AI Lab will ‘rigorously’ test tech to see if it can deliver


The CCIO for health and care in England has said the NHS Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab will focus on taking examples of AI in healthcare and “rigorously testing” them to find out whether they can deliver scalable benefits to the NHS.

During a panel session at NHS Expo on 4 September, Simon Eccles was questioned over the £250m lab, which was announced by the government in August.

The lab, which will be run by NHSX and is due to be launched in April 2020, will be used help to develop treatments for cancer, dementia and heart disease.

When prompted for more information by a member of the audience, Eccles revealed a few snippets of what to expect.

“It [the AI Lab] is about taking all the great examples of health AI we see in prototypes, medical journals an so on and rigorously testing if they can deliver tangible, scalable benefits for the NHS,” Eccles said.

Eccles also suggested that NHS staff had come to “shrug and accept” outdated computer systems and long log-in times.

While other industries such as agriculture and shipping have made “phenomenal leaps in standardisation and digitalisation”, the NHS is lagging behind, Eccles said, adding the health service’s attitude to technology “is wrong”.

He added: “If we change our attitude to tech, we will find that recruitment and retention of staff will be easier.

“We will find people are able to do their jobs infinitely better as we have automated routine and boring tasks.

“This is a wholesale mindset change that we have got to get to.”

Speaking to Digital Health News afterwards, Eccles also backed the argument made in the same session by Hugh McCaughey, national director of improvement at NHS England and NHS Improvement, who said early adopters of innovation in the NHS should be celebrated as much as the innovators themselves.

Eccles said it was “ingenious” and backed McCaughey’s call for awards to be given to those who take that first step.

The national CCIO also mentioned the secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, who was unable to attend NHS Expo this year but instead sent a video message.

Eccles said it was great to have a health secretary “who really cares about technology”.

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