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NHS should focus on the basics of cancer treatment and not the “magic bullets” of AI, warn experts

NHS should focus on the basics of cancer treatment and not the “magic bullets” of AI, warn experts

NHS should focus on the basics of cancer treatment rather than the “magic bullets” of Artificial Intelligence, experts have warned.

According to nine leading oncologists and academics, the UK health system - free at the point of use and funded by taxpayers - has been urged to go back to the beginning with how it treats the disease instead of worrying about AI and other tech.

The paper - published in The Lancet Oncology - pointed out that the service’s survival rates were dipping behind those of its international counterparts. In addition, it has not met the target of 85 per cent of patients starting treatment within two months of diagnosis since 2015.

Research has previously shown that not beginning treatment within four weeks increases the chance of mortality by 10 per cent, meaning that hundreds of thousands of patients are forced to wait for months to start and only 67 per cent start care within 62 of detection.

The article pointed out 10 areas of improvement that would up cancer survival rates, such as inequality, diagnosis and treatment lags and unsuitable care.

In addition, they made great effort to point out that the emphasis on “novel solutions” such as innovative diagnostic tests, which they claim do not “none address the fundamental issues of cancer as a systems problem”.

They dubbed the “common fallacy” of NHS management to believe that new tech can solve these problems. They noted that AI can lead to “additional barriers for those with poor digital or health literacy”.

The paper ended: “We caution against technocentric approaches without robust evaluation from an equity perspective.”

Ajay Aggarwal, the lead author of the paper, consultant oncologist, and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, called the AI improvement method “slightly reductionist.”

He told the Guardian newspaper: “The discussion around AI, tech, liquid biopsies, is slightly reductionist as a solution to cancer care. AI is a workflow tool, but actually, is it going to improve survival? Well, we’ve got limited evidence of that so far. Yes, it’s something that could potentially help the workforce, but you still need people to take a patient’s history, to take blood, to do surgery, to break bad news.”

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