British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to increase the use of data and artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the diagnosis of chronic diseases, with the aim of 22,000 fewer people dying from cancer each year by 2033.

Addressing an audience in Macclesfield, the Prime Minister outlined the new plans that she hopes will result in at least 50,000 people each year receiving an earlier diagnosis of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer.

The plans involve using emerging technologies to cross-reference patient genetics, habits and medical records with national data so that cancer can be easier to detect in its early stages. The government believes that this will empower doctors to refer patients to oncologists earlier and potentially before any clear cancerous symptoms develop.

Cancer Research UK CEO Sir Harpal Kumar said: “Earlier detection and diagnosis could fundamentally transform outcomes for people with cancer, as well as saving the NHS money. The Government’s mission to revolutionise healthcare using the power of artificial intelligence is pioneering.

“Advances in detection technologies depend on the intelligent use of data and have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. We need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible.”

The Prime Minister highlighted that late diagnosis of treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths. She believes that developing smart technologies that can analyse vast quantities of data quickly and accurately will create “a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease”.

May also stressed that successful implementation of the plans could create a whole new industry around AI in healthcare, potentially leading to new jobs.

UiPath chief evangelist and automation expert Guy Kirkwood said:  “It is vital that there is further investment and research into how AI can benefit the healthcare industry.

“Furthermore, there must be an understanding of how this tech will impact healthcare jobs – they are likely to look different than before and require other skill sets and knowledge. For example, individuals would be tasked with developing new automation technologies and managing the implementation of these technologies.”

Jackie Hunter, CEO of BenevolentBio, the UK’s leading private artificial intelligence company in healthcare, commented: “AI has the potential to revolutionise all aspects of healthcare – not only in delivery and early diagnosis of disease but also in the ability to find new medicines and ensure they are delivered to the right patients.

“It is also important that the UK maximises its human capital and ensures that all students have the ability to study data science and its applications in a range of areas including healthcare.”

May’s speech comes as University College London Hospitals (UCLH) announce plans to use AI to carry out tasks traditionally performed by healthcare workers. Such tasks include diagnosing cancer from CT scans and triaging patients.

A three-year partnership between UCLH and the Alan Turing Institute will aim to bring the benefits of machine learning to the NHS hospitals.