The UK government has announced five new “centres of excellence” for digital pathology and imaging, including radiology, using the latest advances in medical AI

The new centres will be based in Leeds, Oxford, Coventry, Glasgow and London, making intelligent image analysis available on the NHS that could potentially lead to better clinical decisions for patients and free up more staff for direct patient care.

Recent developments in machine learning have enabled companies like Kheiron to create AI systems that can detect cancer at an early stage, drastically increasing the likelihood of effective treatment.

Doctors, businesses and academics will all play a role in developing and researching new products at the centres. The government says it will prioritise using genomics and image analysis to understand how other complex diseases develop.

The image analysis developed by the team will use AI tools to analyse medical images such as x-rays and microscopic sections from tissue biopsies, revealed UKRI CEP Sir Mark Walport.

The centres will be based at universities and NHS facilities and are expected to be up and running as soon as next year. They will be spearheaded by some of the UK’s leading healthcare companies including GE Healthcare, Siemens, and Philips.

The £50m funding for the centres is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) aimed at boosting productivity and creating higher paying jobs across the UK by investing in skills, industries and infrastructure.

“AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare and improve lives for the better,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark. “That’s why our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain fit for the future.”

The government says precision medicine and early diagnosis is ‘at the heart of a national approach to better health’, enabled by fast-evolving advances in digital health, genomics, data science and artificial intelligence.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has previously admitted being registered on Babylon’s controversial AI ‘GP at Hand’ service, said the NHS needs to embrace AI and ‘make every pound go further’.

“As part of our long-term plan, we will transform the NHS into an ecosystem of enterprise and innovation that allows technology to flourish and evolve,” he said.

The news comes a week after a BBC Horizon documentary critically examined controversial UK AI healthcare firm Babylon Health, raising serious doubts about the claims Babylon has made about the accuracy of its AI diagnostic system.

Louise Roberston, COO of Hows, took to The Stack to explain why the NHS needs to embrace new technologies if it is to see another seventieth birthday.