NHS staff to be trained to use robotics and artificial intelligence

Thousands of NHS staff are to be trained to use robotics and artificial intelligence as the health service sets out to embrace cutting-edge innovation and technology.

New developments in genomics, digital medicine, artificial intelligence and robotics have already revolutionised some NHS treatments such as eye surgery and knee replacements.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called on US academic Eric Topol to carry out a review into how the NHS can pioneer new treatments and technologies to transform healthcare.

Dr Topol, an expert in cardiology, genetics and digital medicine, has previously examined the use of wireless and smartphone technology in healthcare, and led a multi-million dollar US research programme focusing on harnessing technology and data to provide more precise, tailored patient treatment.

Supported by international experts, his independent review will examine artificial intelligence – including robotics – genomics and digital medicine.

It will look at training existing staff, as well as considering how this will impact on the skills required from future healthcare professionals.

Mr Hunt said: “Every week we hear about exciting new developments surfacing in the NHS which could help provide answers to some of our greatest challenges such as cancer or chronic illness.

“These give us a glimpse of what the future of the whole NHS could be, which is why in the year of the NHS’ 70th birthday I want to empower staff to offer patients modern healthcare more widely and more quickly.

“I’m delighted that Dr Topol is kicking off this review – ensuring the NHS is at the forefront of life-saving, life-changing care across the globe for decades to come.”

Dr Topol will commence the review with a visit to London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital, which has revolutionised the way professionals carry out eye tests so that artificial intelligence can detect common eye diseases much earlier.

Their work is looking at how machine learning technology can help analyse eye scans, giving eye care professionals a better and faster understanding of eye disease.

Dr Topol said: “While it’s hard to predict the future, we know artificial intelligence, digital medicine and genomics will have an enormous impact for improving the efficiency and precision in healthcare.

“Our review will focus on the extraordinary opportunities to leverage these technologies for the healthcare workforce and power a sustainable and vibrant NHS.”

A key case study linked to the review involves new technology to help patients self-manage diabetes occurring during pregnancy.

Currently patients need to measure glucose levels up to six times per day, record results in a paper diary and visit hospital every two to four weeks.

But a new smartphone app with a Bluetooth-enabled blood glucose meter has been developed to offer real-time management of this type of diabetes and reduce the need for clinical visits by patients.

Staff are trained to interpret data on the app and use it to message patients directly so they can self-manage the condition.

The review team will submit a final report by the end of the year.

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