Matt Hancock, health secretary, has announced plans to invest in a National Artificial Intelligence Lab, designed to help build cutting-edge treatments for cancer, dementia and heart disease.

The investment is to the tune of £250 million, and will 'help the NHS to become a world leader in artificial intelligence and health research.'

The Department of Health and Social Care announced the funding to ‘solve some of the biggest challenges facing the NHS’, and hopefully move better cancer detection, new dementia treatments and more personalised care a step closer to reality.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already being developed in some hospitals, successfully predicting cancer survival rates and cutting the number of missed appointments.

The proposed AI Lab could improve cancer screening by speeding up the results of tests, including mammograms, brain scans, eye scans and heart monitoring and use predictive models to better estimate future needs of beds, drugs, devices, or surgeries.

Boris Johnson, the UK’s new Prime Minister explained that the “NHS is revered for the world-class care it provides every day – a treasured institution that showcases the very best of Britain.”

He went on to explain that it is also “leading the way in harnessing new technology to treat and prevent, from earlier cancer detection to spotting the deadly signs of dementia,” and reminded that the funding is “not just about the future of care though. It will also boost the frontline by automating admin tasks and freeing up staff to care for patients.”

“My task to ensure the NHS has the funding it needs to make a real difference to the lives of staff and patients. Transforming care through artificial intelligence is a perfect illustration of that.”

The lab will sit within NHSX, the new organisation which will oversee the digitisation of the health and care service, in partnership with the Accelerated Access Collaborative, and will bring together the industry’s best academics, specialists and technology companies to ‘harness the power of AI to improve the health and lives of patients.’

The news comes in addition to a recent announcement of £1.8 billion for 20 hospital upgrades and infrastructure projects, as well as proposals to fix issues with doctor’s pensions so clinicians can take on extra shifts and cut waiting times.

Matthew Gould, Chief Executive of NHSX said that the funding gets the NHS “ready for the AI revolution”, saying that it means “doctors can identify and treat disease faster and more effectively. It also puts the UK in pole position for healthtech research and lifesaving innovations. At NHSX we are focussed on practical AI tools that will make a real difference to patients."

AI is already being developed in a number of NHS hospitals, including Imperial College London to predict survival rates for ovarian cancer, and in University College Hospital, to predict missed appointments and allow staff to follow-up with targeted phone calls, saving £2-3 per appointment.