Artificial intelligence capable of spotting deadly diseases like cancer is to receive a £50 million funding boost in a bid to speed up diagnosis times.
The extra cash is being awarded to three specialist centres based in Coventry, Leeds and London, delivering digital upgrades to pathology and imaging services across an additional 38 NHS trusts, the Department of Health and Social Care (DoH) said.
It is hoped the technology will improve outcomes for millions of patients, providing a more accurate diagnosis and freeing up NHS staff time, as part of a Government commitment to detect three quarters of cancers at an early stage by 2028.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Technology is a force for good in our fight against the deadliest diseases – it can transform and save lives through faster diagnosis, free up clinicians to spend time with their patients and make every pound in the NHS go further.
“I am determined we do all we can to save lives by spotting cancer sooner.
“Bringing the benefits of artificial intelligence to the front line of our health service with this funding is another step in that mission.
“We can support doctors to improve the care we provide and make Britain a world-leader in this field.
“The NHS is open and I urge anyone who suspects they have symptoms to book an appointment with their GP as soon as possible to benefit from our excellent diagnostics and treatments.”
The Government said the investment will support its long-term response to Covid-19, allowing centres to work with British businesses and thereby support the economic recovery.
The DoH said that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 92% of urgent cancer referrals have been investigated within two weeks and 85,000 people have started treatment.
Darren Treanor, a consultant pathologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and director of one of the three centres, said: “This investment will allow us to use digital pathology to diagnose cancer at 21 NHS trusts in the North, serving a population of six million people.
“We will also build a national network spanning another 25 hospitals in England, allowing doctors to get expert second opinions in rare cancers, such as childhood tumours, more rapidly.”