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Launching the Founders Forum Health Tech Summit as part of London Tech Week, Health secretary Matt Hancock said today that the NHS must improve its use of technology and data to help save lives.

Hancock set out his priorities for the use of AI and Machine Learning technologies to drive the NHS forward. “The focus on Healthtech is an incredibly important one and a pressing one because there are many challenges that the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown up but one of the opportunities and positives that has come out of the pandemic has been the radical increase in the use of telemedicine and the embracing of new technology.”

Mr Hancock set out his three step plan to ensure the UK can build a future life sciences industry based on high quality use of data. The first area is making sure the UK has the very best possible environment for the uptake of technology.

He continued:“Having this environment is not just about the finances, it’s about making sure we have an open door to the NHS and to all of those who want to come in and use the capabilities of the NHS in order to save lives and improve treatment. NHSX, which we stood up a year ago, is there to be that open door to help navigate through the NHS and ensure that we have that symbiotic engagement between the NHS and those companies that want to come in and find solutions.”

During his keynote speech, Mr Hancock also explained the importance of ensuring that the data architecture of the NHS is interoperable and having a high quality data architecture that protects privacy whilst allowing for research and the use of that data to find insights and apply them in a clinical setting.

He added: “We have the biggest and most comprehensive health data system in the world in the NHS. We are absolutely rigorous about the needs of privacy but we mustn’t let that get in the way of innovation that can improve people’s lives. We must do both – allow for innovation of the data and allow for the highest quality of privacy and cybersecurity. In fact, a high quality data architecture improves both, this isn’t an either or. This is a huge project to digitise records, to use the UK biobank of half a million fully consented patients and to link that with the genomic data sets, which we are increasingly growing –  this combination is a huge opportunity. ”

The third area of focus is changing the culture in the way that data is used in the NHS.

“One of the most useful things we did at the peak of Coronavirus was the copy notice changing the regulations on the use of data in the NHS to say that as long as you protect your data rigorously, what matters far less is the format in which that data is stored or transmitted. At the same time, we put our information governance onto one piece of paper which can be transmitted to front line staff right across the NHS to cut through some of the over-bureaucratic data governance rules that have built up over time.

We are going to go further and simplify those rules and crucially put those rules in the hands of those working across the NHS to change the culture to see data as an asset on which we can build the future of the NHS. Rather than data that has to be protected and hidden away, our privacy needs to be protected, data needs to be used to save lives – changing that culture is absolutely critical.”

Mr Hancock also announced approximately £50m of funding will be distributed to technology companies to develop AI products, test some for the first time in the NHS and roll out some already tested products across the service. The funding is part of Round 1 of the £140m AI Award initiative announced in January.

London Tech Week, organised by Informa Tech, is one of Europe’s most influential tech event and runs until 11th September. This year the event has looked at the impact of the technology ecosystem and the key issues of our age including health, education, security, the future of work and the socio-economic inclusion of women, BAME and under-represented groups. London Tech Week focuses on curated virtual content enabling international audiences to join. General registration here & media registration here).