Henry Smith MP leads NHS debate on artificial intelligence in healthcare

Crawley MP and All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heart & Circulatory Diseases Chair Henry Smith has called for the greater involvement of patients in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

Henry secured and led the debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday, 5th September. It follows the APPG’s inquiry which earlier this year found huge potential for AI to transform the lives of those living with heart and circulatory diseases, as well as a greater need for those affected to be included in discussions about the development and adoption of these new technologies.

Henry said;

“With NHS funding continuing to increase, it’s vital that some of this investment is used to keep patients updated on the use of AI in healthcare.

“The Heart & Circulatory Diseases APPG’s survey of patients of these conditions found that 64 per cent had at least some awareness of potential future uses of AI to diagnose and treat heart and circulatory diseases, but only 17 per cent of respondents were aware of any current uses of such technology. This just goes to highlight the importance of improving patient awareness while AI can help more and more people.

“Patients need to be able to not only know how AI can help them, but to have trust in the process and in how their data is being used.

“Over the summer I welcomed the Department of Health & Social Care confirming that £250 million will be invested in a new National Artificial Intelligence Lab. This will bring academics and specialists together to help identify the patients most at risk of conditions such as heart disease; allowing earlier, cheaper, and more focused support.

“In Crawley, 11,000 people were living with a heart and circulatory condition in 2017-18. It’s vital that we make the most of the potential of AI to support patients, in addition to ensuring enhanced GP provision and reduced waiting times.”

The Group’s latest report, ‘Putting Patients at the Heart of Artificial Intelligence’, was launched in Parliament in May of this year.

Please click here for the full text of Henry's debate, or see below for extracts.

On AI in healthcare, Henry said;

“Put simply, AI is the term given to a set of computer actions that mimic human intelligence. Our report outlines that what separates modern AI, such as machine learning, from other types of computer program is that it can learn and improve at tasks.

“AI is particularly strong at finding patterns and trends in data that are not obvious through human analysis. I have mentioned machine learning, which is one type of AI. It is where algorithms—a set of rules that a computer uses to make a calculation—are used to look for patterns in data, and the computer then uses those patterns to make decisions. It looks for patterns in many different types of data, from scrutinising images to analysing genomic data.”

On the potential of AI, Henry said;

“In assessing the potential for AI, it is important to note the scale of heart and circulatory diseases in this country. The British Heart Foundation, which provides secretariat support to the APPG, reports that heart and circulatory diseases still cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK, on average killing one person every three minutes.

“The number of people living with heart and circulatory diseases also remains high, at 5.9 million in England. There are more than 42,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease each year in the UK.

“We must therefore utilise the enormous potential of AI across all areas to transform the way we prevent, diagnose, treat and support those living with or at risk from heart and circulatory diseases.”

On the Government investment in AI, Henry said;

“It was very much with that call in mind that, almost a month ago, I welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement that £250 million is to be spent on the new national artificial intelligence lab to improve the health and lives of patients. The Department of Health and Social Care has said that the AI lab will bring together the industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies.

“They will be working on some of the biggest challenges in health and care, identifying the patients most at risk of conditions such as heart disease. That will allow for earlier diagnosis and cheaper, more focused and personalised prevention. The new national artificial intelligence lab will sit within NHSX, the new organisation that will oversee the digitisation of the health and care system in partnership with the accelerated access collaborative.

“One of the key recommendations of the APPG report is that NHSX should set up discussions with charities and the public to explore the views and concerns of patients about the use of AI in healthcare, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurances that through the development of the new lab, NHSX will be exploring the opinions of patients and thoroughly engaging them throughout that ongoing process.”

On support for people in Crawley, Henry said;

“There is much to welcome in the NHS long-term plan. Indeed, NHS funding will grow on average by 3.4 per cent in real terms each year from 2019-20 to 2023-24, which is of course welcome. The current funding increase will mean that the NHS can lay further foundations for service improvements.

“Thanks to our NHS staff, millions more people are being treated every year. Although services return to Crawley Hospital—and I continue to call for even greater provision—it remains the case that the worst decision in the history of Crawley as a new town was the removal of A&E in 2005. Our constituents expect to see improved GP provision, reduced waiting times and enhanced frontline services.”

Please click here for the full text and video of Henry's debate.