The major investment in three diagnostic centres launched two years ago, of which The National Pathology Imaging Collaborative (NPIC) in Leeds is one, will help boost diagnostic times, potentially helping millions of people in the North waiting to hear if they have cancer or other life-changing or limiting diseases.
The NPIC is linked to eight universities, including the universities of Leeds and Sheffield, nine NHS trusts, including six in Yorkshire, as well as nine industry partners. It has the potential to serve up to six million people.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the funding would also free up NHS staff time and was an integral part of the Government's commitment to detect three quarters of cancers in their early stage by 2028.
It comes amidst mounting concerns of a backlog of cancer patients awaiting treatment due to the coronavirus crisis leading to the cancellation of hundreds of chemotherapy sessions and operations.
The Department of Health and Social Care meanwhile says that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 92 per cent of urgent cancer referrals have been investigated within two weeks and 85,000 people have started treatment.
The funding boost, according to the Government, would scale up the work of existing Digital Pathology and Imaging Artificial Intelligence Centres of Excellence, which were launched in 2018, and would also be given to such centres in London and Coventry alongside Leeds.
A leading consultant at the NPIC at Leeds Teaching Hospitals said artificial intelligence tools could "completely transform cancer care" and also help catch childhood tumours early on.
Darren Treanor, who is National Pathology Imaging Co-operative Director and Consultant Pathologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "This investment will allow us to use digital pathology to diagnose cancer at 21 NHS Trusts in the North, serving a population of 6 million people.
"We will also build a national network spanning another 25 hospitals in England, allowing doctors to get expert second opinions in rare cancers, such as childhood tumours, more rapidly.
"This funding puts the NHS in a strong position to be a global leader in the use of Artificial Intelligence in the diagnosis of disease."
The Government says it has installed 69 machines such as breast screening machines and CT and MRI scanners in NHS hospitals in England since September last year, when it promised £200m to replace them.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Technology is a force for good in our fight against the deadliest diseases – it can transform and save lives through faster diagnosis, free up clinicians to spend time with their patients and make every pound in the NHS go further.
“I am determined we do all we can to save lives by spotting cancer sooner. Bringing the benefits of artificial intelligence to the front line of our health service with this funding is another step in that mission. We can support doctors to improve the care we provide and make Britain a world-leader in this field.
“The NHS is open and I urge anyone who suspects they have symptoms to book an appointment with their GP as soon as possible to benefit from our excellent diagnostics and treatments.”