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What impact will robotics and AI have on healthcare?

With robotics and AI affecting many sectors, what impact could they have on healthcare provision?

It’s the ‘summer of anniversaries’. New Electronics turns fifty this month, likewise Intel in July. One of the biggest celebrations however, will be for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) which turns 70 in a matter of weeks.

While politicians will look to celebrate this milestone, front line services will still have to manage the 700,000 people who use the NHS each day.

Long term conditions such as strokes, arthritis and dementia are increasing as a result of an ageing population - over 11.6million people in the UK are aged 65 or over and that is expected to reach 19million by 2045. As a result, health and social care services are under unprecedented pressure.

Spending on health runs into billions and is set to increase further, as the Government unveils an additional £20bn in funding.

While it seems obvious to many that we need to invest more, what role has technology to play in easing the care burden?

In this issue’s cover feature, we look at how wearable devices, robotics, artificial intelligence and better data management could be used to improve patient outcomes and how the setting up of the new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI), at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, will be looking to use new technologies to accelerate drug discovery.

Technology can deliver more targeted and effective treatments and, if deployed correctly, could save the NHS billions.

But, if it is to play a role, its application needs to be done with care, and with due consideration being given to both ethical and societal issues.

Any developments in new technologies should take place through close collaboration with the very people who are in need of care, as well as with the public and those organisations involved in providing care services.

The Government has called on the NHS to set out reform plans to match the new funding it has announced. While the NHS has a poor record when it comes to embracing new technologies, now is surely the time to pursue them as a matter of urgency.

Bethan Grylls

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