Skip to main content

Regulating AI in health and care

Matthew Gould, CEO of NHSX, explains why he convened a round-table of regulators to talk AI, and what the plan is. 

An image of a brain with computer leads representing artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds enormous potential for the NHS, if we can use it right.  It can reduce the burden on the system by taking on the tasks that can be converted into an algorithm. Many of these are in areas of greatest pressure, like radiography and pathology. It could improve patient outcomes, and increase productivity across the system, freeing up clinicians’ time so they can focus on the parts of the job where they add the most value.

But doing AI right means putting a set of rules around it that will make sure it is done safely, in a way that respects patients’ privacy and keeps the confidence of citizens and staff. Some of those rules already exist - like the 2018 Data Protection Act, for example, which put GDPR into UK law. But there are gaps, lots of regulators on the pitch, and a lack of clarity on both standards and roles.  

UK could be a world leader in health AI

This carries two risks.  First, and most importantly, that AI will be used that is unsafe. Second, and more likely, that the opportunity to use AI to help patients will be wasted or delayed, as both clinicians and innovators hold back until they know there is a regulatory framework that gives them cover.

Smart regulation could really help make the UK the best place in the world to develop AI in health. The benefits will be huge if we can find the sweet spot, where we maintain the trust that AI is being used properly and safely, while creating a space in which compliant innovation can flourish. 

We aren’t there yet. There are multiple regulators involved, creating a bewildering array of bodies for innovators to navigate and creating confusion for organisations in the NHS and social care who want to make the most of these innovations. We haven’t worked out yet how to regulate Machine Learning - systems that are constantly iterating their algorithms, often at huge speed and for reasons that are not always transparent, even to their creators. We have not created a clear path for innovators for how they get regulatory approval for their AI systems.

Working through the issues around AI in health

This is why I convened the CEOs and heads of all the 12 regulators and organisations involved. It included MHRA, NICE, CQC, the Information Commissioner, the National Data Guardian, the Health Research Authority, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, NHSD, NHSR, the Better Regulation Executive and the MRC (the full list of participants is below).

We met on 28 January, and spent three hours working through the issues.  There was complete agreement that we needed to get on with this, and get in place the clear, innovation-friendly processes and regulations we need.   In particular, we agreed that we need:

In all this, the NHS AI Lab will play an important role, not least as a source of funding for regulators to stand up the capability they need to do this work.  The lab will have regulation as one of its core streams of activity.   

It’s a huge agenda.  But it really matters, and we need to move this all forward at pace.  The prize - if we can get this right - is making the UK a world leader in AI for health, giving the NHS the benefits of this new technology safely, reducing the burden on its staff and improving outcomes for patients.  

Attendees at 28 January meeting:

Matthew Gould (Chair)


Sarah Wilkinson

CEO, NHS Digital

Teresa Allen

CEO, Health Research Authority

Ian Trenholm

CEO, Care Quality Commission

June Raine


Helen Vernon

CEO, NHS Resolution

Sam Roberts

CEO, Accelerated Access Collaborative 

Gillian Leng

Deputy CEO and Director of Health and Care, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

Malte Gerhold

Executive Director of Strategy & Intelligence, CQC

Mark Sutton

Chief Digital Officer, CQC

Fiona Caldicott

National Data Guardian

Chris Carr

Director, Better Regulation Executive

Elizabeth Denham

Information Commissioner Office

Claire Newland

Head of Data Science, Medical Research Council

Graeme Tunbridge

Director of Devices, MHRA

Kathy Hall

Director of Technology and Data Strategy, NHSX

Tara Donnelly

Chief Digital Officer, NHSX

Indra Joshi

Director of AI, NHSX

Naomi Radcliffe

Deputy Director of Technology Policy, NHSX

Roger Taylor

Chair, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation


Related subjects

  • The NHS website team has worked with Amazon’s Alexa team to offer health information by voice search. Eva Lake, Head of Engagement for the website, explains how the collaboration is working.

Share this page

Matthew Gould

Matthew is the CEO for NHSX, a new body set up to ensure that staff and patients have the technology they need.

Latest blogs

A nurse checks out additional information on a patient's Summary Care Record.
By Tamara Farrar. 17 December 2020
As the coronavirus hit us in March, the Government made a significant change to the sharing of patient information for those working on the frontline in the NHS. Tamara Farrar, a user researcher at NHS Digital, looked at what that extra information meant for professionals in a wide range of different health and care settings.
Susie Day smiling
By Susie Day. 24 November 2020
Susie Day, Programme Head for the NHS App, explains how new features help support patients and clinicians to meet an increasing need for remote access to services during the pandemic and how they will improve healthcare after the current crisis.
Photo of James Reith working from home.
By James Reith. 19 November 2020
James Reith, Content Designer for the NHS App, explains how the NHS App integration team have improved their integration process to make it easier for partner services to innovate.
Last edited: 12 February 2020 10:23 am