Labour has promised to make better use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies in order to bring the NHS ‘into the digital age’ and help relieve the workforce crisis.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting highlighted in particular AI that can be used to ‘diagnose cancers as accurately as the human eye’ which could free up time for clinicians.
Speaking at the NHS Confederation Expo on Wednesday, Mr Streeting will say the party ‘will arm the NHS with the best available technology to fight disease’ and will ‘cut unnecessary red tape’ around evaluation of new technology.
He also said Labour plans to enable the NHS to bulk buy the latest technology, as the current system whereby companies must sell to each individual trust has created a ‘postcode lottery’.
Only half of NHS patients have access to at-home kidney tests which aim to ‘reduce unnecessary trips to the GP’ by using an app to detect chronic kidney disease, according to Mr Streeting.
In his speech this afternoon, Mr Streeting will say: ‘Artificial intelligence that is already available can free up staff, provide better and faster care for patients, and get more bang for taxpayers’ buck. There’s no time to wait.
‘Labour will arm the NHS with the best available technology to fight disease. We will cut unnecessary red tape and drive change to finally bring our health service into the digital age and make it fit for the future.’
In addition to AI that can accurately diagnose cancer, Labour also pointed to tools that can help with performing radiation therapy and spot signs of cancer from mammograms.
Responding to these plans, chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor said that while a focus on procuring new technology and joining up data is welcome, many NHS leaders tell of challenges with adopting new tools ‘quickly and at scale’.
Mr Taylor called for more funding as well as sufficient staff numbers and training to ensure new technologies can be rolled out successfully.
He added: ‘Addressing the NHS workforce crisis is critical to ensure there are enough staff trained in using the latest technology and it is essential patients are empowered to use technology so that we deliver greater digitisation with equity in mind. A failure to do so will further entrench health inequalities.’
As part of plans to embrace AI to cut NHS waiting lists and free up clinicians’ time, Labour has also revealed new figures showing that 79,000 pagers are still being used across the NHS.
Despite former health secretary Matt Hancock’s plans to phase out pagers by the end of 2021, 80% of NHS trusts still use them, according to data obtained by Labour via freedom of information requests.
In October, a report by Health Education England (HEE) recommended that all health and care staff – especially GPs – should be trained in AI based on the ‘possibility of further spread of AI’ within the health sector.
Last month, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer launched his NHS ‘mission’, pledging that within five years of a Labour government, people will get seen by a GP when they need, as well as promising faster ambulance responses and shorter A&E waiting times.
Labour’s technology plans for the NHS
- Allowing the NHS to bulk buy the latest technology, so innovators aren’t forced to sell into each 227 NHS trusts and products can be purchased for cheaper rates
- Cutting unnecessary red tape that requires new technology to be re-evaluated by several different bodies
- Joining up data records so it is easier and faster to recruit patients to trials for new medicines and technologies
Source: Labour Party
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