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AI can improve maternity care and inequality, says health secretary

AI can improve maternity care and inequality, says health secretary

There is a ‘real opportunity’ to use artificial intelligence (AI) to address health inequalities and improve patient safety, particularly in maternity services, the health and social care secretary has said.

Speaking at the NHS Confed Expo in Manchester this week, Steve Barclay highlighted work being done by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) on the use of AI to help early identification of mothers using maternity services who are at a greater risk.

Mr Barclay commented that the rapid developments in AI were ‘exciting, fast-moving and generating much interest’, while also offering ‘a real opportunity with prevention work and screening’ through the use of data.

Recent reports have highlighted a need to address problems in maternity care. In March, a report from the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman stressed ‘lessons are not being learned’ in maternity services despite several major reviews. Earlier in the year, a survey conducted by the Care Quality Commission highlighted a decline in positive maternity care experiences for women.

However, Mr Barclay believes the use of AI in maternity services can help with early identification of mothers at greater risk. ‘There’s an opportunity for AI to really highlight those health inequalities and use that data to actually address them,’ he said at the conference.

Mr Barclay acknowledged that ‘there are risks with AI’, but warned against concerns standing in the way of progress.

He added: ‘The more we can identify early, the more we can address some of the health inequalities.’

The health secretary also used his speech at the NHS Confed Expo to acknowledge ‘an incredibly challenging period’ for the NHS, but insisted that his motivation was ‘to enable people to access the right care faster’.

Mr Barclay claimed that ‘with our integrated care systems now taking proper statutory form, we are moving in the right direction’.

He added: ‘In primary care, more appointments are being delivered by GPs and the wider clinical team, with on average an extra 20 per practice per day.’ However, he also admitted that ‘demand remains high’.

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