With significant potential in diagnostics, drug development and patient care, artificial intelligence (AI) has huge potential in healthcare, and is an area that the UK National Health Service (NHS) has made significant progress in over the past few years.

Earlier this year, NHS chief Simon Stevens called for the NHS to be a “world leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning within five years”, and in August, the UK government announced plans to invest £250m in a National Artificial Intelligence Lab for the NHS to improve patient care.

However, although the NHS may be making progress in its use of AI, it faces hurdles when it comes to handling data.

This is according to a freedom of information request by hybrid cloud data services company NetApp, which received responses from 61 NHS trusts on their current and future AI deployment.

NHS AI plans ahead, but issues limit goals

NetApp found that 52% of NHS Trusts are already deploying artificial intelligence technologies, with 20% using it for clincial care and 16% in diagnostics. Other use cases include speech recognition, robotic process automation and machine learning to “ease the pressure placed on healthcare workers, improve patient care and accelerate the delivery of personalised medicines.”

A further 16% said they planned to roll out AI in the next two years, with 75% having already appointed an AI leader.

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However, although progress has been made in this area, accessing the volume of data needed to fully harness AI and machine learning could be a roadblock in its deployment. The NHS has access to large volumes of data, but having the means to process these, while also handling sensitive data in a way that is ethical and respects patient privacy, requires significant investment and care.

While 59% have already reviewed or plan to review their data governance policies, NetApp found that just a third of NHS trusts had complete access to the data required for AI deployments. It also discovered that 39% of trusts have not yet financially invested in artificial intelligence projects.

George Kurian, NetApp chief executive officer and president said:

“Artificial intelligence has limitless potential in healthcare services and it’s encouraging to see the technology being used in half of NHS Trusts. As healthcare moves towards preventative treatment and personalised medicines, artificial intelligence leaders in the NHS have a complex challenge to break through cultural and organisational barriers when it comes to providing healthcare professionals the access to data they require.

“Progress is being made and the further deployment of AI-powered technologies – such as speech recognition and machine learning – will alleviate pressure on staff, accelerate innovation and reduce costs. The world of artificial intelligence starts with data, and we are helping healthcare organisations simplify data services and build their data fabrics.”

Read More: NHS AI “must be the next major investment area” for prevention plan.