Rishi Sunak to announce new AI technology able to locate cancer 2.5x quicker than doctors alone

21 May 2024, 00:58 | Updated: 21 May 2024, 01:00

The government has announced £15.5 million of new funding to back the technology
The government has announced £15.5 million of new funding to back the technology. Picture: Getty

By Will Conroy

Rishi Sunak is set to announce a new AI technology that will locate cancer 2.5 times quicker than doctors alone, according to a government statement.

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The Prime Minister will unveil the plans that will look to reduce waiting times for cancer patients, while attending a leaders meeting at the Al Seoul Summit today.

Cancer waiting times for 2023 in England were the worst on record, according to reports, with the waits worsening every year for the past 11.

Only 64.1% of patients started treatment within 62 days of cancer being suspected, meaning nearly 100,000 waited longer than they should for life-saving care.

The government has provided £15.5 million in new funding to roll out the technology to every NHS radiotherapy department in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Visits A Medical Training Centre In Surrey
Prime Minister Visits A Medical Training Centre In Surrey. Picture: Getty

The Prime Minister said: “Thanks to Bletchley we have created a legacy of international collaboration which means we are matching the pace of the technology. 

“AI-powered medical advances – like in radiotherapy – are evidence of this and we must take advantage of them.

“That’s why we are pumping £15.5 million into the NHS so it can be rolled out across England – to help cut waiting lists and make the UK the number one place for AI innovation.”

The technology reportedly works by automatically reviewing CT or MRI scans to distinguish between cancerous cells and healthy organs to protect the healthy organs from damage during radiation treatment.

Dr Imogen Locke, national speciality adviser for radiotherapy at NHS England said: “The NHS is embracing AI and its benefits for cancer patients and every radiotherapy department will soon be able to offer the latest technology to help diagnose and treat patients more quickly.

“We are seeing a record number of referrals for suspected cancer, and game-changing tools like AI will help the NHS continue the significant progress made in tackling the longest waits for patients.”

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The Conservative party have made this announcement as they outline their intentions to cut NHS waiting lists, relieve pressure on hospitals and free up staff time.

This comes after Labour announced that hospitals would have to share waiting lists and pool resources under their plans to reduce waiting times and deliver up to 40,000 extra NHS appointments a week.

Discussing the cancer waiting times recorded in 2023, Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Gemma Peters called the figures "shocking".

She said: "This marks a new low and highlights the desperate situation for people living with cancer."

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins is confident the new technology will improve these statistics.

She said: “This is an exciting breakthrough in our work to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment, and AI is helping to make our healthcare system faster, simpler and fairer. 

“Thanks to such innovation, as well as our measures to help people quit smoking, I’m pleased to say survival rates across almost all types of cancer are improving.”

Britain's Health Secretary Victoria Atkins
Britain's Health Secretary Victoria Atkins. Picture: Getty

Mr Sunak is attending the two-day summit in Al Seoul that will be centred around using AI safely and inclusively to enhance innovation.

AI is becoming more frequently deployed in the healthcare system and is being used in 90% of stroke units in England to improve diagnosis and treatment times.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “We knew that this rapidly evolving technology had the potential to not only improve lives, but save them too.

“AI is already transforming the world for the better, from cutting NHS waiting times and speeding up diagnoses to tackling issues like climate change.”