The NHS, which treats more than one million people a day in England alone, will turn 75 on July 5
NHS at 75: Cybersecurity & long term policymaking needed to restore the system AFP News/Daniel LEAL

Amidst a series of strikes by doctors, nurses and other staff, the NHS completes 75 years. What lies ahead is a series of innovative ways of dealing with things, much of which has already started in the form of using AI tools for speeding up cancer radiotherapy wait times, using business intelligence platforms to reduce A&E wait times, smartphone cameras for skin cancer screening, virtual wards and other such features.

At 75, the NHS is bogged down by some critical issues such as strikes that continue to disrupt the service, and public opinion regarding the privacy issues of using Artificial Intelligence in the NHS.

This was evident when three leading health organisations of the country wrote to the British Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats urging them to end short-termism in NHS policymaking.

The stalwarts underlined that the NHS is one thing that the British people are proud of despite the lowest public satisfaction in 40 years. As such they have urged the political leaders to uphold the ethos of the NHS which is free point of use, comprehensiveness and availability to all. Meanwhile, leaders like former Prime Minister Tony Blair have asked for more privatisation in the NHS to make the system survive.

Call for long-term solutions

The joint letter signed by Richard Murray, the Chief Executive of The King's Fund, Nigel Edwards, the Chief Executive of The Nuffield Trust and Dr Jennifer Dixon, the Chief Executive of the Health Foundation has urged the government to take action to restore NHS services to its previous glory by reducing wait times for treatment. They made it clear that a long-term approach is necessary instead of fast solutions to get out of the crisis. The use of innovative technology like AI can boost productivity and enhance the capacity of the existing system.

  • The health organisations particularly stressed on the issue of inefficient infrastructure like lack of hospital beds, worn-out buildings, outdated equipment and terrible IT that supports the system.
  • They believe that we need to cater to the changing health needs of people which asks for more long-term investment to make care available closer to home instead of specific hospital centres. Along with that AI and other technology can resurrect the NHS.
  • The organisations also highlighted the poor staff retention rate of the NHS as many workers drop out due to lack of support, low morale and sickness. For this, they have blamed the funding shortage in making available facilities like better pay and staff working conditions.
  • They have also asked for reform in adult social care so that the needs of the carers and the NHS workers are prioritised.
  • Apart from all these, the organisations have demanded long-term political action for the health of the UK population which requires a wider system of support including local government and social security. They have underlined without this overall change the NHS can't work properly as they are left to fill up the cracks and mend the broken pieces. They particularly underlined how the UK features in the second last position in life expectancy amongst 19 countries. Compared to posh areas, people in the deprived areas are living less than 20 years.

Lastly, they have highlighted how the economic crisis and the NHS crisis are interlinked as people continue to resign because of sickness and lack of proper income.

The government's short-term policies have been heavily criticised. Many of the solutions appear to be quick fixes and over-promising, says the letter.

Call for better AI training in the NHS

It's not just the industry that's having a difficult time with the NHS. The general public by and large is concerned about their privacy and data security as artificial intelligence entered the system.

A series of recent data breaches in the NHS have made people a little sceptical about the system although they still trust the NHS with their health data. However, most of them now prefer that it remains in the country rather than being outsourced.

VMware recently surveyed 2,000 people regarding this which revealed that 59 per cent still had faith in NHS data security.

  • Out of this 87 per cent want their health data to be stored in the country while 56 per cent don't trust AI when it comes to health data analysis.
  • Out of the people who wanted their health data to be stored in the UK, 39 per cent wanted it to comply with the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • 21 per cent of people surveyed think if the data leaves the country it will be more prone to cyber threats. They don't trust other countries' organisations for this purpose.

The NHS uses cloud services like Amazon, Google or Microsoft Azure which are secured as per UK laws but they still come under the jurisdiction of overseas laws in certain situations as the service providers are foreign companies. A February 2023 report by IDC analysts showed that 62 per cent of UK business leaders are also apprehensive about US cloud service providers.

With regards to the use of AI in the NHS, 44 per cent of people are okay with it if it increases the speed of diagnosis while 45 per cent think AI could improve NHS service.

For this purpose, better cyber training for the NHS is needed which is fulfilled by specialists such as Cisco Networking Academy, CNA. The organisation is training a new batch of NHS clinicians and staff to enhance their cyber security skills. This is part of the government's NHS Long Term Workforce Plan which seeks to upskill healthcare workers.

The course is designed to cater to the needs of the NHS including endpoint protection and network security and along with the basics of cyber security and the digital world.

All of these aspects when addressed adequately the NHS can become resilient again. At present, the NHS funding for 2022/23 stands at £153 billion. Last month, the government announced a series of AI plans for the NHS with a £21 million investment.