Public prescribe more artificial intelligence to NHS

12 September 2018 5 min. read

The British public remains broadly sceptical of the benefits of artificial intelligence with regards to the provision of multiple services, to the extent they would not share personal data with the UK’s largest organisations for AI dedications. However, according to a new report, should AI be found to demonstrably improve the NHS, a slim majority would be willing to supply personal data for such purposes.  

Healthcare providers are under strain across the West, thanks to multiple challenges that have shifted public demand and the ability to meet it. In the UK the NHS, which remains under resourced, is struggling to meet the expectations of a growing, ageing and increasingly demanding population. As institutions like the NHS are constantly pushed to do more with less, many are looking for places to save time, money and human resources, in order to prioritise frontline service provision.

Despite the plight of the keystone national institution, however, when it comes to engaging artificial intelligence as a game-changer in the NHS, public opinion remains divided at best. A study conducted by PwC last year found that only 27% of the UK public saying they would be willing to embrace AI in areas such as surgery or diagnosis. While frontline service provision looks set to remain very much the preserve of human beings for the time being, though, a new report from Big Four professional services giant KPMG has found that the innovative new technology could find a home in the health sector on another front.

Respondents are more likely to share their personal data with the NHS

A survey of 2,000 Britons commissioned by KPMG revealed that on the whole, 51% of those polled are worried about data privacy, and a majority of people said they wouldn’t share their personal data with the UK’s biggest organisations for AI purposes. This is perhaps understandable in a country which finds itself recovering from a succession of data-privacy scandals relating to high-profile election campaigns, including the 2016 Brexit vote. However, there was one area of exception in the research, with KPMG finding that 56% would be happy to share their personal data with the NHS if it led to improved service.

With the NHS, which provides universal free healthcare at the point of service to millions of Britons, coming under increasing pressure, people seem keen to find ways for the institution to find areas in which it can save money and time, while actually improving service provision rather than impacting it. To this end, 53% of people stated a belief that artificial intelligence would have a positive impact on the NHS, while only 10% argued the contrary. The steps most likely to motivate people to share their personal data with the NHS were to improve the quality of diagnosis and if the NHS took steps to ensure data is kept safe and secure. At the same time, 54% of people think the potential benefits of giving their personal data to the NHS outweighs the potential risks, with only 9% disagreeing despite the security lapse in 2017 that saw patient data compromised by the WannaCry cyber-attack.

The favourability for AI in the NHS contrasts dramatically with those willing to share their personal data with other organisations, however. Pharmaceutical companies (15%), charities (11%), media companies (8%), internet companies (8%) and political organisations (7%) were at the bottom of the list in terms of who the public would trust with their data. Other public service wings performed poorly too, with the public unwilling to allow either the government (22%) or the police (33%) a further encroachment into their habits, along with banks (47%). The survey also saw a majority of those polled call on the government to adopt a less laissez faire approach to regulation on new technologies such as artificial intelligence to prevent such institutions potentially abusing data or innovative technologies, with only 6% said there should be less. Following up on this, when participants were asked which areas will be the greatest problem with artificial intelligence, the top answer was data privacy and security.

A significant percentage of respondents who are worried about the impact of AI

In response to the findings, KPMG made five recommendations for the UK to effectively capitalise on its AI potential. This includes a national debate on the realities of AI, followed by the formalising of the UK’s data regulation systems for AI. Then the researchers suggest establishing a ‘British Standard of Trust’ – a kite-mark for AI and data security – followed by the founding of ‘Data Innovation Zones’ where developers are given access to anonymous health data. Finally, the firm joined the growing number of voices calling for the addressing the AI skills gap by digital up-skilling in schools, a culture of life-long learning and greater recognition for subjects beyond STEM.

On the AI opportunity the Business Secretary Greg Clark said, “AI and big data is changing the world we live in and we are determined to reap the benefits of our unmatched heritage and excellence in the UK, dating back to Alan Turing. Through our modern Industrial Strategy and our Artificial Intelligence and Data Grand Challenge we want to harness this technology to transform how we diagnose disease, speed up treatment and help people live longer, healthier lives, with the ambition of around 20,000 fewer people dying within 5 years of their cancer diagnosis in 2030 compared to today.”

Speaking on the results, James Stewart, Vice Chair at KPMG UK, meanwhile added, “The NHS is the one area of many people’s lives where their scepticism of artificial intelligence and data security is overcome.  This could make the data held by the NHS a national asset capable of catapulting the UK’s AI development potential forward. The public are receptive to more artificial intelligence in the NHS and this could lead to breakthroughs in patient care and how AI is regarded by UK business more generally.”