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Share research profits with NHS trusts to encourage innovation, says NHS Confederation

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 01 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4094

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Re: Share research profits with NHS trusts to encourage innovation, says NHS Confederation

We proudly offer healthcare to every person whose feet touch our soil. The benefits to the NHS of a multicultural public, whether side effect reports to the yellow card system or diversity for training AIs, far outweigh any commercial sales pitch.

When a “visionary” wanted to privatise and monopolise the human genome, Sir John Bell and the many others funded by the Wellcome Trust defended the public interest; a non-commercial genome endures. This should be listed as one of the great things British institutions have given the world. Today, facing a similar choice about the basis for health diagnoses, the choices made appear to be different.

The author shares wider concerns at recent commercial deals for health data. In a two year project, covering each clinical speciality, the NHS could ensure that it has continual access to non-profit diagnosis assistance tools, for free, for ever. And not in just the UK, but available to every doctor who can use them anywhere in the world. It could be another of the great things that humans do for humans, alongside the Human Genome Project.

‘PFI for AI’ will not have the price of PFI for buildings, but the costs will be similar. An adequately resourced NHS should never only rely on a single opinion from one AI – doctors get second opinions – so there is space for commercial entities providing models at reasonable costs, but no space for monopoly.

Diagnosis AIs can be developed by a technically skilled, clinically trained, resource-focussed, committed team – which sounds like something NHS researchers have in spades. At only £20m a year in research funding, the outcomes will benefit NHS patients (and NHS finances) on day one, and run on a device in your hand. The Government proposes a commercial entity charges each part of the NHS, possibly per diagnosis, certainly forever. Others seek to bundle AIs with an email account, as long as you’re willing to give up your family’s medical history for them to sell ads against.

As Sir John Bell knows from his experience with the Human Genome Project, free access without constraints will happen. His question was who owns the company; a better question is who gives this to the world? It should be us.

Competing interests: Sam is a coordinator at medConfidential, and a member of the National Information Board at the Department of Health.

07 September 2017
Sam Smith