UK Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined ambitions to position the UK “at the forefront” of the artificial intelligence revolution in healthcare in a speech announcing a £20 billion annual funding boost for the NHS as a "birthday present".

Speaking in London yesterday, May said NHS England’s budget would increase by an average of 3.4 per cent each year until 2023/24 to “keep pace with growing pressures”, ahead of its 70th anniversary, in a deal agreed between the PM, the Chancellor, and Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

“We cannot continue to put a sticking plaster on the NHS budget each year, so we will do more than simply give the NHS a one-off injection of cash,” May said.

The government now needs to agree with the NHS on a 10-year plan to ensure “every penny is well spent”.

“It must be a plan that tackles waste, reduces bureaucracy and eliminates unacceptable variation, with all these efficiency savings reinvested back into patient care,” the Prime Minister said, outlining five key areas: patient-centred care, an empowered workforce, increased focus on prevention, mental health, and harnessing the power of innovation.

“We have the opportunity to lead the world in the use of data and technology to prevent illness, not just treat it, to diagnose conditions before symptoms occur and to deliver personalised treatment informed not just by general understanding of disease, but by your own data, including your genetic makeup.

“Our long-term plan for the NHS needs to view technology as more than supporting what the NHS is doing already. It must expand the boundaries of what the NHS can do in the future in the fastest, safest, most ambitious way possible,” May said.

But she conceded that tax rises would be needed to support the funding boost. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Hunt said: “We are being very clear that there are implications for the tax burden, because in the end if you want the NHS to be the safest and one of the highest-quality systems in the world, faced with these demographic changes we are going to spend more money.”

As the funding injection will only apply to the NHS England budget and not the wider Department of Health and Social Care, writing on Twitter, MP Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health and Social Care committee, said:

“I welcome the uplift but this will not deliver as planned without attention to and uplifts for public health (prevention), social care, workforce training & capital/transformation budgets.”

Originally published in BJ-HC, a sister publication of Healthcare IT News Australia.

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