New code of conduct aims to protect patient data from NHS AI deals

The principles urge businesses to let the government help guide the development of their technology

The government has unveiled a set of principles that aim to protect patient data and ensure only the best technology is chosen as part of any deals made between the NHS and AI firms.

Health minister James O'Shaughnessy announced the proposals as part of a new code of conduct that aims to foster a safe and trusted environment for UK citizens, adding that the increased used of AI and other technologies to improve health care should not be to the detriment of patient privacy.

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The Technology Partnerships Code of Conduct sets out 10 principles that outline how the government expects AI tech firms to work with the NHS to make it easier for them, but also the NHS's expectations if patient data is used.

"Artificial intelligence and machine learning is a field that is moving at lightning speed and has tremendous potential across the healthcare sector," Lord O'Shaughnessy said. "These principles provide a basis to deepen the trust between patients, clinicians, researchers and innovators."

The principles state that the NHS, and therefore taxpayers, should get a "good deal on future partnerships" tech businesses and that companies allow the government to guide the development of new technologies. The code also stipulates how patient data should be protected and a timeframe for launching data-driven technologies so both staff and patients can benefit as quickly as possible.

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The government would also like businesses to give the NHS discounts and bonuses, equity or extra-value services as part of any agreed deal.

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While the new code is voluntary, and therefore lacks any meaningful provision for forcing companies to comply, it's likely going to be within a company's interest to sign up, at least in part how much a firm would be willing to let government guide development of their technology is likely to vary.

"This is an important first step towards creating a safe and trusted environment in which innovation can flourish to the benefit of all our health," O'Shaughnessy added.

AI technology has already been successfully deployed across a handful of areas within the NHS, including the early diagnosis of heart disease and lung cancer, the matching of patients to clinical trials, and in the reduction of false positives and unnecessary operations.

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