Revolutionising healthcare with AI and data science: UCLH and The Alan Turing Institute announces breakthrough partnership

UCLH, one of the leading hospitals in the NHS, is embarking on a programme of work with The Alan Turing Institute to harness the power of data science and artificial intelligence to support clinical decision making to make services safer, quicker and more efficient.

The partnership has been brokered by the NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR UCLH BRC), a £114m translational research centre that transforms scientific breakthroughs into life-saving treatments for patients.

Collecting and analysing data in the NHS is not new, as Professor Bryan Williams, Director of the NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and Director of Research at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says: “The NHS routinely collects data that is analysed to develop research, track performance and measure outcomes but we could do so much more with the information we collect. Imagine a world where we could use this data to develop algorithms to rule out diseases, suggest treatment plans or predict behaviour….that is more than possible with the wealth of data we have available and the expertise at The Alan Turing Institute. The partnership has the potential to tackle some of the big issues that the NHS has never been able to solve”.

Our first area of focus will be how our A&E department runs.  With A&E waits regularly exceeding four hour waits across the country, UCLH is not alone in experiencing difficulties. Professor Marcel Levi, UCLH chief executive says, “Despite some successes, hospitals have struggled to maintain long term successes in reducing A&E waiting times.  Our performance this year has fallen short of the four hour wait, which is no reflection on the dedication and commitment of our staff but rather an indicator of some of the other things in the entire chain concerning the flow of acute patients in and out the hospital that are wrong – A&E is a barometer of how the rest of the hospital, and indeed, the wider system is working.

“With ever increasing numbers of patients and ongoing financial pressures, we need to try something different, something innovative, something longer-term.  The partnership with the Alan Turing Institute provides an opportunity to work with the world’s leading data scientists to do just this.

“Imagine a scenario where patients present to A&E with abdomen pain – our standard response is to check bloods, order X-rays or scans and in probably about 80% of cases, discharge for home management.  What, if through analysis of thousands of similar scenarios, we were able to identify patterns in the initial presentation of the 20% with serious conditions, such as intestinal perforation or severe infections? This could enable us to fast track them through to a scan and a swift diagnosis and could support clinical decision making to manage the 80% who need no further clinical input more effectively. Machines will never replace doctors, but the use of data, expertise and technology can radically change how we manage our services – for the better”.

The NIHR UCLH BRC is driving the transformative partnership with a strategy that is focused on accelerating advancements that are aimed at improving care and enhancing patient experience. The NIHR UCLH BRC will provide pivotal infrastructure, such as data warehouses and storage, and expertise in data science and advanced analytics through the researchers it supports.

Another objective of the partnership is to understand and improve the flow of staff and patients through the hospital. Researchers at the NIHR UCLH BRC and The Alan Turing Institute will apply artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to large existing data sets on how people move through the departments of the hospital. Their analyses will track down bottlenecks, hurdles and downtime in how the hospital operates, which can then be tackled to improve efficiency and help patients get seen faster and more effectively.

For The Alan Turing Institute, this new partnership is an opportunity to bring lasting effects across the health service. Sir Alan Wilson, Institute CEO, commented: “At the Turing we believe that data science and AI will revolutionise healthcare: not only through new technologies, as in the recent break-throughs in image recognition, but also through applying cutting-edge algorithms to the every-day problems facing the NHS such as A&E waiting times and other crucial services. We are very proud to be working with UCLH to begin a multi-year research partnership and driving the outputs of our research forward to deliver real impact across the whole NHS.”

This Research Hospital initiative will build on and grow exponentially the healthcare informatics research already underway at the NIHR UCLH BRC. For example, NIHR-funded researcher Dr Parashkev Nachev – Senior Clinical Research Associate at the Institute of Neurology, UCL and an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurology, Queen Square – has developed an artificial intelligence programme that analyses data from hospital appointments to understand which patients will attend or miss outpatient neurology clinics and MRI scans. This will help clinic staff better predict who is most likely to attend their appointments and offer appointment slots that are most likely to suit the individual’s needs.

The partnership comes as UCLH moves to embed research and learning into routine clinical care and as Professor Williams adds:  “UCLH is already one of the most research-active hospitals, with thousands of patients offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials each year. We want to push the boundaries of routine clinical care by continuously analysing data, learning from it, changing the way we work and testing.  The potential to offer personalised care based on a range of parameters we might never have thought of before is what the partnership with Alan Turing Institute can offer.  It is very exciting to be at the forefront of such an innovative project”.

The Alan Turing Institute recently appointed Professor Chris Holmes as Programme Director for Health, in a joint appointment with Health Data Research UK (HDR-UK). Detailed areas of research focus for the UCLH-Turing partnership will be scoped in the next two months by Professor Chris Holmes and the UCLH research team.