All NHS radiotherapy departments in England to receive AI technology through government funding 

SoR welcomes investment in new software but has warned that humans are still important in radiotherapy

Published: 22 May 2024 Government & NHS

All NHS radiotherapy departments in England are to receive AI technology through £15.5 million worth of government funding.

In an announcement made on Monday (21 May), the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the technology works by automatically reviewing scans to distinguish between cancerous cells and healthy organs 2.5 times quicker than before. 

Trained workers will review any report before administering treatment, but a spokesperson for the DHSC said the announcement is “game-changing”, and that it will cut NHS waiting lists, relieve pressure on hospitals, free up staff time and support people in care settings to live more independently.

Human oversight 

While the SoR welcomes investment in new software it has warned that humans are still needed to ensure outcomes are positive.

Charlotte Beardmore, the SoR's executive director of professional policy, said: “It is very positive that the government is investing in AI technologies which can be implemented safely within the radiotherapy planning process. AI is evolving rapidly and the key issues going forwards are the essential role of good governance in AI research, the need to ensure safe implementation and the importance of good communications with patients about the use of AI in their diagnosis and treatment pathway."

Radiotherapy services are increasingly reporting long delays for patients needing treatment. AI is not the complete answer. Radiotherapy is delivered by a multi-professional team and the UK Radiotherapy Board have developed a policy briefing which explores the main drivers for lengthening waiting times and what National and local action is needed to support services. 

The SoR also highlighted the confusing language used in the government announcement, which refers to diagnostic CT and MRI scans in radiotherapy, but despite the confusion the Society welcomed the announcement. 

'Should help radiographers to optimise care'

Announcing the initiative, Victoria Atkins, health and social care secretary, 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, and our work to grow the number of doctors in clinical oncology and radiology by a quarter since 2019, I’m pleased to say survival rates across almost all types of cancer are improving.”

(Image: Photo by Henry Nicholls/AFP via Getty Images)