Artificial intelligence was a central theme at HPN North this April, with a range of panel discussions, meetings and breakouts focused on AI opportunities within the NHS. Read on to learn more about the key themes from this year’s event.

Global interest in AI has exploded over the last few years with the advent of a new generation of AI solutions. Unlike their more exclusive predecessors, tools such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Microsoft Copilot are now widely available to the public. And perhaps most importantly, they are all relatively simple to use.

This interest has understandably spread into the healthcare sector. Some of the greatest technological innovations in a generation are centred around using data science and machine learning to tackle society’s biggest challenges. To date, the NHS has so far mainly focused on two key uses of AI:


Some of our ongoing projects with NHS England have supported these, such as accelerating the safe deployment of mature and certified AI medical imaging products in radiology clinical pathways at scale. But from our experience we know there are much broader opportunities for the use of AI in the NHS. Particularly within the realm of healthcare operations and patient flow.

Fortunately, many of these ideas and themes were on show at HPN North 2024. To that end, here are our top three takeaways around the use of AI in the NHS from the event:

1. The NHS’ AI approach needs to be broadened

The NHS has so far for the most part focused on using AI in the diagnostics and general administration space. However, the technology is capable of much more.

Here at Faculty, through our work with NHS trusts and providers we’ve found the biggest area of opportunity for AI within the operational space. This may include predicting demand in an emergency department in order to efficiently allocate limited resources. Or generating a predicted estimated date of discharge (EDD) for patients that are admitted, so hospital teams can begin the process of discharging patients earlier. And in turn, reduce the amount of time patients stay in hospital after they meet the criteria to be discharged.

These are just a couple of examples of how AI could be applied beyond the current paradigm. We would encourage any NHS operators to embrace these broad possibilities that lay ahead.

2. To realise AI’s true benefits the NHS needs to move beyond pilots and embrace full-scale roll-outs

Proof of concept (POC) pilots are an important part of demonstrating the feasibility of new technologies. But from experience, we know that the true value of AI solutions, for both patients and NHS organisations, can only be fully realised through full-scale roll-outs and widespread adoption. 

The uplift in the resulting value from a roll-out pays back many times over the associated expense. And unlike with a time-limited pilot, the value to the organisation is sustained over time, leading to productivity improvements and efficiency savings.

Our advice to stakeholders within the NHS is to consider how their organisation will adopt AI technologies on a large-scale before even considering a POC pilot.


Here at Faculty, through our work with NHS trusts and providers we’ve found the biggest area of opportunity for AI within the operational space.


3. The elephant in the room: Hiring data scientists and upskilling staff is expensive

As with embracing full-scale roll-outs, investment in employees with the appropriate skills to use AI/machine learning technologies is neither quick nor cheap. It requires thoughtful and sustained investment. However, the potential benefits from employing staff with the appropriate skills now will not only allow organisations to begin their journey of adopting AI, but also provide the foundation for long-term upskilling of the workforce.

We are acutely aware of the need to train talented data scientists and machine learning engineers to tackle real-world problems. It’s why for over 10 years, we’ve been delivering the UK’s flagship AI talent development programme: the Faculty Fellowship

Now in its 28th cohort, the Fellowship matches the UK’s best STEM academics with our partner organisations to solve key business challenges using data science and AI. Our Fellows receive world-class training in commercial and technical skills from Faculty staff, followed by six weeks embedded within the partner organisation scoping, validating and implementing a solution to a business problem.

To date, we have deployed seven Fellows to the NHS and trained over 50 NHS England analysts. Our clients consistently tell us that the Fellowship is a fantastic route for exploring AI opportunities within NHS organisations, with minimal outlay and producing tangible deliverables at the end. The training the Fellows receive is also available to our partner organisations, further supporting the development of their data science capabilities and upskilling of their workforce.

Are you interested in learning more about how your organisation can explore the opportunities of AI? Whether through our applied AI services, operational AI solutions, or the Faculty Fellowship, we’re here to help. Get in touch here.

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