Drones and AI in £800m Budget package to cut police and NHS times

Credit: PA

The Budget will include an £800 million package of technology reforms that is designed to speed-up results in the NHS and cut admin tasks for police.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said there is “too much waste in the system” as he announced on Sunday a series of measures to free-up time for those on the front line of public services.

As part of the Treasury reforms, police will use drones to assess incidents such as traffic collisions and artificial intelligence (AI) will be deployed to cut scan times by a third.

The department said the changes, due to be in Wednesday’s Budget, have the potential to deliver £1.8 billion worth of benefits to public sector productivity by 2029.

In the health sector, the Treasury said that more than 130,000 patients a year, including those waiting for cancer results, can expect to receive their test results sooner as a result of at least 100 MRI scanners in England being upgraded with AI.

The pioneering technology will be trained to recognise patterns in scans through machine-learning which officials said could cut scan times by over a third.

In policing, the Treasury said its reforms will help to deliver on the Police Productivity Review, which it said found that up to 38 million hours of officer time could be saved every year.

Mr Hunt will provide £230 million towards the rollout of time-saving technology, including funding automated redaction of personal information during evidence collation.

The process will apply to name badges in shoplifting incidents, irrelevant faces from body worn cameras and number plates from video evidence.

In the health sector, the Treasury said 130,000 patients a year can expect test results sooner as a result of AI being used in MRI machines. Credit: ITV News

Interviewing witnesses and victims via video call will be approved to improve speed of service.

A pilot allowing officers to use drones to first respond to some incidents like traffic collisions will also be given the green light.

The drone information will be fed back to help forces to assess the seriousness of the incident and the resources required to deal with it, the Treasury said.

AI will be used on the 101 non-emergency service to triage callers, it added.

Officials said the move is about reversing the high spending, high tax approach the UK government adopted to see the country through the coronavirus pandemic and the energy shocks sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Hunt said: “We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking more spending buys us better public services.

“There is too much waste in the system and we want public servants to get back to doing what matters most: teaching our children, keeping us safe and treating us when we’re sick.

“That’s why our plan is about reaping the rewards of productivity, from faster access to MRIs for patients to hundreds of thousands of police hours freed up to attend burglaries or incidents of domestic abuse.”

Labour MP Darren Jones said he is starting to ‘worry’ about the ‘state of mind’ of Conservative MPs Credit: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA

Darren Jones, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said the announcement mounted to “spin without substance”.

“Nothing in Britain is better off after 14 years of Conservative economic failure,” he said.

“Millions of people are stuck on hospital waiting lists, our schools are crumbling and our streets are less safe. And yet all the Chancellor is offering is more spin without substance.

“It’s time for change. Only Labour offers a long-term plan to grow our economy to deliver more jobs, more investment and to put more money in people’s pockets.”

Mr Hunt is under pressure to deliver tax cuts in what could be the last fiscal statement from the Conservative government before the next general election, which is widely expected in the autumn.

With the Chancellor number-crunching over the coming days before finalising his Budget, official forecasts of the Chancellor’s “head room” against his plans to get borrowing to fall in five years’ time are understood to have moved against the government.

Treasury sources this week said Mr Hunt is considering a further squeeze on public spending as a way to deliver the tax cuts being demanded by some Tory MPs.

The announcement about bolstering public sector productivity could be a move designed to free up money for pre-election giveaways.

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