Announcing Our Validation of AI in Clinical Deployment Project

St George’s, University of London and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust to deliver diabetic eye screening project that will support commissioning the first potential widespread use of AI within the NHS

St George’s, University of London and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are leading a half a million pound project on Artificial Intelligence (AI), funded by NHSX, the Health Foundation and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  The research project uses artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to detect diabetic eye disease and to ensure it works for all. It uses AI technology to analyse retinal images from diabetic patients to prevent vision loss more efficiently and quicker than human specialists. Crucially, the project will develop safeguarding systems to ensure AI performance does not vary across population subgroups, such as ethnicity or gender. The project will also provide evidence to support the commissioning and deployment of the first potential widespread use of AI within the NHS.

Researchers at St George’s and the Retina Discovery Group at Moorfields have previously shown that automated retinal image analysis systems using AI can indeed provide a safe, cost-effective alternative. This could provide major benefits for the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (DESP), which generates millions of retinal images every year for early detection of diabetic eye disease – the leading causes of blindness in the working-age population. Considering the cost and number of screening episodes, the savings could extend to more than £10 million every year in England alone.

Concerns have been raised over AI image recognition technologies, such as facial recognition varying in performance with gender and ethnicity. Researchers at St George’s and Moorfields will create a database of retinal images from different ethnic groups, genders and ages to ensure continued safety and confirm that anyone affected by diabetes in the UK will benefit. They will convene a group from North East London DESP including diabetic patients, a screening specialist, a consultant endocrinologist and a public health physician, informing the best way to use these systems within the NHS DESP.

“It’s crucial that the first wide-scale deployment of AI in the NHS is safe and performs to a high level across the board,” said Professor Adnan Tufail, Consultant Ophthalmologist at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. “This project will develop the essential safety tools necessary and monitoring systems to check the performance of AI after deployment to ensure trustworthy AI for the benefit of all patients.”

“This project will also be independent of any commercial interests,” said Professor Alicja Rudnicka, Professor of Statistical Epidemiology at St George’s, University of London. “The design and methodology we develop will be transferable to other healthcare domains where such AI evaluations are needed.”

This project will commence in 2022 in partnership with The Homerton University Hospital, Kingston University, and University of Washington, USA.