Pioneering AI stroke diagnostic software framework now available to the NHS

  • Use of AI speeds up diagnostic process, crucial in stroke where interventions are time-dependent, with significant harm and long-term disability caused if left untreated
  • Framework supports the delivery of better outcomes for patients by helping the NHS access cutting-edge technology that will transform the clinical pathway
  • In an emerging marketplace, the route removes barriers, and creates a simple, compliant commercial solution offering assurance to buyers

NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) has unveiled ‘The Provision of AI Software in Neuroscience for Stroke Decision Making Support framework agreement’, the only one of its kind in the UK specifically for the analysis of images for the detection of ischaemic or haemorrhagic strokes.

Developed with expert contributions from NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI), clinical leads from the 20 Integrated Stroke Delivery Networks across England, the Academic Health Science Network and with further input from NHSX and the Care Quality Commission, the framework enables NHS organisations to access this innovative medical technology, and use evidence-based, cost-effective technology to provide rapid treatment where required.

In an emerging marketplace, contracting with the most innovative technology start-ups can come with challenges. This route helps remove barriers and de-risks procurements, thereby providing a viable commercial solution offering assurance to buyers.

Every year, over 100,000* people in the UK are affected by stroke. Speed and accuracy in the interpretation of brain scans are critical to diagnosis and treatment.

This software uses AI algorithms to support the clinical decision-making process, providing real-time interpretation of imaging to augment the review, diagnosis and delivery of time-dependent treatments.

The NHS Long Term Plan set of objectives to improve services and outcomes for stroke patients includes attaining a ten-fold increase in the proportion of patients who receive a thrombectomy after a stroke by 2022, so that each year 1,600 more people can live independently after their stroke. It also aims to have the best performance in Europe for delivering thrombolysis to all suitable patients by 2025.

The milestones for stroke care also contain the scaling of technology to drive the expansion of life-changing treatments, including the use of AI interpretation of CT and MRI scans to support clinical decisions regarding suitability for thrombolysis and thrombectomy.

Use of AI can reduce the decision-making time for both thrombolysis and thrombectomy, increasing the numbers of patients eligible for both interventions and improving the likely benefit of treatment. It can provide interpretation of imaging within seconds, as opposed to up to 30 minutes when manual review of the images is undertaken remotely by a reporting doctor.**

The use of AI software is also an integral part of the National Optimal Stroke Imaging Pathway (NOSIP). Designed to guide the efficient use of radiology resources and reduce duplication, the NOSIP puts a patient’s rapid need of appropriate brain and vessel imaging acquisition and interpretation front and centre of the initial assessment when a stroke is suspected. AI features prominently for use as decision support, rather than as a substitute for expert radiological interpretation.

AI is considered to be of significant benefit in improving access to both thrombolytic therapy and mechanical thrombectomy in England**. The new framework agreement is an important mechanism to support trusts and networks to deliver the optimal pathway for patients suspected of suffering a stroke.

Adam Nickerson, NHS SBSSenior Category Manager – Digital & IT, said:

“This use of AI is a prime example of how new technologies have the potential to transform NHS patient care, speeding up diagnosis and treatment times by ensuring that expert clinical resource is targeted where it has the greatest impact for the patient. By identifying areas in which technology can be used to help speed up patient pathways, clinicians have more time for providing personalised care and patient waiting lists – exacerbated by the pandemic, are reduced.

“We have been pleased to work alongside some of the country’s leading tech minds, expert stroke clinicians, and policy leaders to develop this unique framework, which will go a long way to enabling more rapid uptake of Stroke AI software across the NHS.

“The suppliers on our framework agreement are working right at the cutting edge of healthcare. Their work is already improving and saving the lives of patients who – as a result of this digital healthcare technology – are given access to the right treatment more quickly.

“We look forward to seeing how the technology evolves and the potential for equally life-saving solutions for patients with other medical conditions.”

Darrien Bold, National Digital and AI Lead for Stroke, NHSEI, said:

“We are already seeing the impact AI decision-support software is having on stroke pathways across the country, and the introduction of this framework will drive forward further progress in delivering best-practice care where rapid assessment and treatment are of the essence.

“Over the past 18 months, the heath and care system has been compelled to look to new technologies to continue providing frontline care, and the stroke community has embraced new ways of working in times of unprecedented pressure. This framework agreement will be of great benefit as we implement the NOSIP – driving better outcomes, better patient experience and better patient safety, using new technology quickly, safely and innovatively.”

Dr David Hargroves, Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) Clinical Lead for Stroke and National Specialty Advisor for Stroke Medicine, NHSEI said:

“Rapid brain imaging and its interpretation is arguably one of the most important steps in the care of patients with stroke-like symptoms. Adherence to the NOSIP, incorporating AI decision support software, is likely to improve access to disability-saving interventions to thousands of patients. This framework agreement supplies a valuable platform to support providers of hyperacute stroke care in the purchase of AI software.”

For more information about ‘The Provision of AI Software in Neuroscience for Stroke Decision Making Support framework agreement‘.