Prime Minister Theresa May has revealed new plans to prevent thousands of cancer deaths and improve the detection of chronic diseases through greater use of artificial intelligence.

In a speech later today, the PM will challenge the NHS, industry and health charities to employ AI technologies able to sift through huge patient data sets to cross reference genetics, habits and medical records with national data in the hope of speeding up cancer diagnoses.

The plans will see at least 50,000 people each year diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer, people who would have otherwise been diagnosed at a later and more deadly stage, and around 22,000 fewer deaths from the disease by 2033, according to the government.

“The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease,” May is expected to say.

“Achieving this mission will not only save thousands of lives. It will incubate a whole new industry around AI-in-healthcare, creating high-skilled science jobs across the country, drawing on existing centres of excellence in places like Edinburgh, Oxford and Leeds – and helping to grow new ones.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, has welcomed the move.

“The government’s mission to revolutionise healthcare using the power of artificial intelligence is pioneering,” he said.

“Advances in detection technologies depend on the intelligent use of data and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. We need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible.”

“AI has the potential to revolutionise all aspects of healthcare – not only in delivery and early diagnosis of disease but also in the ability to find new medicines and ensure they are delivered to the right patients," noted Jackie Hunter, chief executive of BenevolentBio.

"It is also important that the UK maximises its human capital and ensures that all students have the ability to study data science and its applications in a range of areas including healthcare.”

However, the plans could meet with some objection if commercial entities are able to tap into NHS data for financial gain, which would likely spark further debate on ethics and confidentiality.