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Babylon pledges £75m to develop AI for managing chronic conditions

Babylon has pledged £75m to develop artificial intelligence that will help GPs diagnose and manage chronic conditions, the private health provider has announced.

The funding will go towards building a workforce of over 1,000 scientists, engineers and clinicians to expand Babylon’s digital offering into chronic disease management.

Babylon CEO Dr Ali Parsa said a shortage of healthcare providers has meant that ‘sometimes those who are most in need – such as people with chronic conditions like mental health or diabetes – do not receive the consistent care they deserve’.

He added that AI ‘has the potential to improve the capacity of our healthcare professionals to safely care for more patients’.

According to the latest workforce figures the NHS has lost nearly 5,000 GP partners in a decade and 523 full-time equivalent GPs in since March.

He told Pulse that the Babylon app’s symptom checker ‘will expand into chronic disease management so we can assess [patients] for chronic diseases and we can also in addition to that manage the chronic diseases’.

Dr Parsa said: ‘What [those with chronic diseases] find is that when they see a doctor it’s fine but all other times they’re left alone. So we can monitor them.

‘If you are suicidal and you are chronically depressed, if you spend three days at home and if you are looking through your phone more than usual, we know that you’re more likely to attempt suicide.

‘But the only time we know is when you have attempted it and ended up in A&E. But we could intervene. We could say – hey, I notice you’re at home a little bit, can I help you?’

Head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London Professor Azeem Majeed told Pulse that AI ‘has a lot of potential in healthcare, including in primary care’ and with the shortage of doctors, ‘if some of their work can be taken on by AI-based tools, this would help relieve some of the pressures’.

However, he added: ‘AI would also need considerable evaluation before it could be rolled out into routine clinical practice.

‘This would include assessing its safety and effectiveness, and also its acceptability to patients and health professionals.’

Dr Chris Arden, a Southampton-based GP with special interest in cardiology, said: ‘Given the nature of our interaction in primary care I think there still will be a lot of value obviously in the personal contact and that relationship with the patient and that’s something that will never be replaced.’