Blogger series graphic showing hospital staff in a hospital corridor.

I’ve taken you through a range of Microsoft and partner AI applications in healthcare ranging from chatbots, automated workers, all the way through to storytelling robots. These stories have shown the amazing impact that the NHS and Microsoft are having across the UK and across in the last four years of my role. The pace of change is palpable, but there’s never been a better time to work with technology. Especially when you get to see organisations like the NHS making massive strides ahead on their digital transformation journey.

However, the speed of change and the availability of AI creates an ever-growing skills gap. For the NHS with a workforce of front-line carers and medical staff, digital skills don’t immediately seem important when they have patients to look after. On top of that, traditional IT teams and developers within the health system can sometimes struggle between managing their existing technology and learning new AI technologies.

Within the next two decades, 90 percent of jobs will require some level of digital proficiency, including front-line workers, but the shortage of technical skills continues to grow. Our own research and experience has highlighted an increasing cloud and AI skills gap as well.

A House of Lords select committee has called on NHS England to urgently develop a consistent and rigorous approach to data sharing agreements so the NHS can leverage the value of AI initiatives in healthcare. The ‘AI in the UK: ready, willing and able’ report explores the benefits of data-driven technology, its implication for the economy, and how any associated risks can be mitigated. The paper suggests AI could have a significant beneficial impact on patient care, research, diagnostics, and personalised medicine.  A male doctor peers through a surgical scope in operating room of medical facility

Digital skills courses to re-skill everyone

To ensure everyone in the UK can up-skill and re-skill, Microsoft offers digital skills courses all the way from basic digital literacy through to advanced cloud technology skills.

We’re also striving to close that skills gap by committing to deliver 30,000 new digital apprentices, train over 30,000 public sector officials on digital skills, and deliver 500,000 new cloud experts by 2020.

Our aim is to provide everybody with basic online skills, nurture young people’s passion for computer science, and prepare them for the world of tomorrow. As well as provide essential training to businesses and IT professionals who need to develop their understanding of the cloud.

Addressing the skills gap in the NHS

Another way to bridge this gap is for the NHS to partner up with leading universities to co-build useful, scalable, and applied AI solutions. This partnership of commercial, academia, and industry is the perfect place to drive innovation.

The knowledge exchange was built into the University College London Industry Exchange Network (IXN) created by Dr Dean Mohamedally, Dr Graham Roberts, and Geoff Hughes. It enables students to enhance their degree training by engaging them with clients to solve real-world issues.

The UCL IXN has been a huge success year on year, with an increasing number of companies joining, and brilliant students applying themselves in an amazing array to their own motivation areas, from AI to VR. Each year sees the class size rising, and there are currently almost 600 students working on some 170+ industry-aligned IXN projects.

A group of NHS employees and IXN students

One example was included in this blog series – SOTA the story telling robot. Another successful project is PEACH for UCL Hospital which uses HoloLens to transform medical imaging into 3D models, making it easier for surgeons and doctors to diagnose, plan, and perform operations.

What’s even better is that the IXN also delivers open source projects, meaning the technology can be shared across the UK, ensuring everyone has a chance to use these new exciting technologies at little cost.

In 2017-18 there were 86 projects alone for the NHS, supported by clinicians and NHS staff around the UK. There are even more NHS projects coming this year, including the IXN’s plan for around 190 candidates to work on ML Readiness tasks for NHS supported activities.

In 2019, the UCL IXN, NHS Digital, Code4Health and Microsoft are seeking to build upon their relationship to broaden the benefits of an expanded inter-university IXN programme. They will also continue to build on the foundations for an open source NHS IXN.

“Via the IXN I have been able to get access to a focused and capable student population to produce clinically led proof of concepts that solve real needs and improves lives. As a consequence, I am able to provide proof of concepts quickly to clinicians that have no commercial risks and little technical risks. This allows one to help clinicians to be innovative within the boundaries of their technical and operational pathways.”

-Joseph Connor of NHS Digital

The sky is the limit

It’s important for technology firms to continue to support these processes. By also being committed to finding open source solutions with the NHS, it will ensure students involved around the UK will have guidelines and best practices to follow.

The sky is the limit for submitting proposals for the areas that need the most assistance in today’s healthcare. NHS clinicians and project sponsors partake in a deep dive session with Microsoft to reveal insights from their daily practices that AI could help with. A project formulation process is then put into place and this is then matched to a group of students to elicit the requirements, design, build and demonstrate a working Proof of Concept on the solution. All IP is kept by the NHS Trust’s Open Source initiative, Code4Health, who mentors the student alongside Microsoft engineers in their projects.

If you have a Christmas wish for a particular NHS project that involves AI, you can submit a project brief by contacting Dr Dean Mohamedally at UCL Computer Science and myself at Microsoft. If you’d like to keep in the loop and would like to join as a clinical contributor to this initiative, we’d also love to hear from you. Let’s bring on the changes for the better in 2019!

It’s been inspirational to collate all of the fantastic work being done across the NHS and healthcare in the UK for the past 12 days. We’ve covered everything from chatbots, to automated workers, and heard empowering patient stories of how AI can support people suffering from epilepsy, COPD, and cystic fibrosis. I want to end the series with an open invite for you to become involved in some of these projects and help create an amazing future for healthcare in the UK.

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About the authorKelly Limonte headshot

Kelly is the Healthcare Industry Manager at Microsoft UK, working with transformational digital partners and NHS customers to pilot solutions for collaborative working and empowering everyone to do more. She has 15 years’ experience working alongside the NHS, and is passionate about the power technology has to create positive change in healthcare.