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Health secretary launches £140m competition for NHS artificial intelligence projects

The health secretary has launched a competition for companies to receive a share of £140 million to ‘fast-track’ artificial intelligence (AI) to NHS staff and patients.

The new investment scheme, known as the AI Award, will see companies selected on the basis of their potential to ‘transform patient care, support staff and save lives,’ according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

It forms part of the £250 million funding commitment announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last August, aimed at boosting AI in the health service. 

The new competition is aimed at companies that will allow the NHS to ‘adopt and test technologies’ that already have regulatory approval, as well as those projects that are developed in line with the NHS long-term plan.

Launching the competition, health secretary Matt Hancock described the ‘whole agenda’ as being ‘about people’ rather than technology.

He said: ‘The best kind of tech is the technology you barely notice because it just works.

‘It’s the tech that gets you away from the screen and lets you make eye contact with the patient in front of you.’

He added: ‘Giving clinicians back the gift of time and allowing them to care – that’s what we’re aiming for, it’s what clinicians are crying out for, it’s what patients expect and it’s what will bring our NHS into the 21st century.’

The role of AI within the UK’s healthcare system has gained prominence in recent years, largely driven by the Government’s ambitions to make the NHS a global leader in the field. 

Currently, it contributes towards predicting cancer survival rates, reducing the number of missed appointments, and gauging demand for blood in hospitals. 

Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, said: ‘From helping to personalise NHS screening and treatments for cancer, eye disease and a range of other conditions, the possibilities that AI could help with are vast and the NHS is already ramping up the use of world-leading technology as part of our long-term plan.’

The first call for entries to the competition opens today, and will remain open for five weeks.