The Royal College of Pathologists and The Royal College of Radiologists have published a joint report following a meeting they co-chaired at 10 Downing Street to discuss the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the NHS.

In October, the College President, Dr Bernie Croal, Dr Ellie Dow, Consultant in Biochemical Medicine and Professor Darren Treanor, Digital Pathology Lead at the RCPath, joined a roundtable event with the Royal College of Radiologists at 10 Downing Street to discuss the potential for AI to facilitate rapid and early diagnoses in the NHS.

The joint report focuses on the discussion from the meeting and sets out a shared plan of action for government, the NHS, and the medical Royal Colleges to secure the benefits of diagnostic AI for patients. The report notes that while there is great potential, progress relies on investment, planning, and the provision of modern IT systems in the NHS. The expansion of digital pathology will also be essential if AI is to make a significant contribution to delivering earlier diagnoses and thus better patient care.

As well as robust IT, progress also relies on a well resourced workforce. There is a 24% vacancy rate among cellular pathologists and an estimated 22% are predicted to retire within the next five years and in radiology, there is a consultant workforce shortage of 29%. This shortage of staff is contributing to delays to patients receiving their diagnosis and starting treatment.

As technology-centric specialties, radiology and pathology are at the forefront of the AI revolution which holds great potential to tackle bottlenecks at the diagnosis stage, leading to better health outcomes and shorter waiting lists. In cellular pathology, there is at least one AI application for grading prostate tumours currently being trialled, and within blood sciences, AI algorithms are able to identify the right patients for specialist treatment, making patient pathways more efficient. In radiology, many applications are already in use with activities that include an AI imaging registry and clinical guidelines for the use of AI in chest x-rays and for auto-contouring in radiotherapy.

Dr Bernie Croal, President of the Royal College of Pathologists, said:

`Artificial intelligence has the potential to transform the diagnostic landscape, improving health outcomes and shortening waiting lists. While the advent of AI in pathology is very exciting, and the NHS could be a world leader in the development and use of AI in pathology, a great deal of work is required to get to the point where AI is fully developed and used safely in the NHS. Investment in digital pathology, joined up functional IT systems, which facilitate information sharing across organisations, as well as training for pathologists to understand and use AI, will all need to be put in place.’