AI to tackle UK racial healthcare inequality, says Javid

By Laura Berrill
Health Secretary Sajid Javid say artificial intelligence will be used to tackle inequalities in the NHS

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid has given the go ahead to a series of hi-tech initiatives aimed at tackling health disparities in the UK. The move is reported to have followed mounting concern over the issue among some senior ministers.

Such projects would include drawing up fresh standards for health data inclusivity after it is thought they so far do not adequately represent people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

One example is the use of algorithms to investigate factors behind adverse maternity incidents in BAME mothers, as it has been found black women are five times more likely to die in the UK due to complications in childbirth than white women.

Javid said he was committed to “removing barriers” in the NHS. It has been already found that some people with BAME communities have poorer health than the overall population and more recently, that the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on these groups.

AI as a force for good in health sector

He added: “Technology, particularly AI, can be an incredible force for good. It can save valuable clinician time and help provide faster, more accurate diagnosis, so patients can access the care they need as quickly as possible. It can also help us better understand racial differences so we can train our workforce to look for different symptoms or complicating factors, diagnose faster, and tailor treatments.”

This drive using AI will be led by NHSX. Its AI Ethics Initiative aims to support research and practical interventions using AI-driven technologies in health and care, with a focus on countering health inequalities.

More use of chatbots and improved computer screening

Another project being funded involves an AI-powered chatbot to raise the uptake of screening for STIs/HIV among ethnic communities.

A fourth involves improved computer screening to detect diabetic retinopathy. Recent analysis suggests performance varies significantly between different ethnic groups because people from ethnic minority groups have higher levels of retinal pigmentation which can influence image quality.

Josh Keith, a senior fellow at the Health Foundation, a think tank involved in the initiatives, said: “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."

 

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