NHS: Automation DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness Blackwood of North OxfordMain Page: Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Conservative - Life peer)
My Lords, the success of any organisation is dependent on the people within it. I believe that the most precious asset that the NHS has is its human resource of dedicated staff, but in these days of sophisticated IT, and now artificial intelligence, can my noble friend tell the House what developments can be safely and securely harnessed by the NHS?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made a valid point about the need for human beings to be involved in the delivery of healthcare, but the use of AI and other technology is also very exciting, as is the fact that it features so largely in the long-term plan. Are the experiments in automation taking place across the country, where are they taking place, when will we see the results and who is delivering automated healthcare and AI? Is it the NHS or are private contractors being commissioned to do this work? I accept that the Minister may not be able to answer all those questions in detail, but if she cannot, I would appreciate a letter being placed in the Library.
My Lords, while the delivery of automation and AI has much to commend it to the NHS, CyberMDX reported last week that anaesthetic machines can be hacked and controlled from afar, including silencing alarms that would alert anaesthetists to danger. Four months ago in Israel, a cybersecurity firm demonstrated that computer virus malware could add tumours to images of scans. What protections, such as digital signatures and encryption, does the NHS now put in place, following the malware alarm two years ago, to ensure that automation and digital services cannot be attacked by malevolent forces?
My Lords, does my noble friend agree with one of the key points made by Professor Topol that one of the benefits of artificial intelligence is the “gift of time”, as he has put it? In other words, patients can spend more time with their doctor if certain more routine things are automated. Will my noble friend make sure that that is one of the key aims of bringing automation into healthcare?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Robotic process automation—RPA—is an emerging software technology that can undertake repetitive tasks in place of human workers. Many industries are seeing the benefits of using this technology and thus releasing people to do more value-added work. I believe that it has been used in a small number of NHS trusts. Can the Minister say whether there are any plans to deploy this technology more widely across the health service?