4 AI projects to tackle health inequalities supported by £1.4m funding

The NHS AI Lab at NHSX and the Health Foundation have announced four projects to receive a share of £1.4 million in funding.

Placing a focus on tackling health inequalities using artificial intelligence (AI), the winners include AI to investigate disparities in maternal health outcomes, and developing standards and guidance to ensure that datasets for training and testing AI systems are inclusive and generalisable.

The programmes include:

  • University of Westminster – Aims to raise the uptake of screening for STIs/HIV among minority ethnic communities through an automated AI-driven chatbot which provides advice about sexually transmitted infections. The research will also inform the development and implementation of chatbots designed for minority ethnic populations in public health more widely and within the NHS.
  • Loughborough University – Aims to use AI to improve the investigation of factors contributing to adverse maternity incidents amongst mothers from different ethnic groups. This research will provide a way of understanding how a range of causal factors combine, interact and lead to maternal harm, and make it easier to design interventions that are targeted and more effective for these groups.
  • St George’s, University of London and Moorfields Eye Hospital – Aims to ensure that AI technologies that detect diabetic retinopathy work for all, by validating the performance of AI retinal image analysis systems that will be used in the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (DESP) in different subgroups of the population. In parallel, the perceptions, acceptability and expectations of health care professionals and people with diabetes will be evaluated in relation to the application of AI systems within the North East London NHS DESP. This study will provide evidence of effectiveness and safety prior to potential commissioning and deployment within the NHS. (Co-investigators: The Homerton University Hospital, Kingston University, and University of Washington, USA)
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust – University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and partners will lead STANDING Together, an international consensus process to develop standards for datasets underpinning AI systems, to ensure they are diverse, inclusive and can support development of AI systems which work across all demographic groups. The resulting standards will help inform regulators, commissioners, policy-makers and health data institutions on whether AI systems are underpinned by datasets which represent everyone and don’t risk leaving underrepresented and minority groups behind.

NHSX launched the funding programme earlier in 2021, initially supporting three projects. The initiative is also exploring addressing algorithmic risks, in partnership with the Ada Lovelace Institute, and is working with Health Education England to empower healthcare professionals to make the most of AI.

Josh Keith, Senior Fellow at the Health Foundation, commented: “Data-driven technology is having a profound impact on our health and health care system, but we need to focus on making sure the impacts are positive, so that everyone’s health and care benefits.

“We hope the projects being supported through this partnership can make an important contribution to this – helping ensure the advancement of AI-driven technologies improves health outcomes for minority ethnic populations in the UK.”

Brhmie Balaram, Head of AI Research and Ethics at NHSX, added: “We’re excited to support innovative projects that demonstrate the power of applying AI to address some of our most pressing challenges; in this case, we’re keen to prove that AI can potentially be used to close gaps in minority ethnic health outcomes.

“Artificial intelligence has the potential to revolutionise care for patients, and we are committed to ensuring that this potential is realised for all patients by accounting for the health needs of diverse communities.”

In other news, the AI Lab in September set out plans to develop a National Strategy for AI in Health and Social Care.