Londoners can now use an AI chatbot instead of the NHS 111 number

 
Lynsey Barber
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Advice on minor ailments will come from technology rather than people (Source: Getty)

Londoners in some areas of the capital will now be able to turn to a chatbot for health advice from the NHS with a new smartphone app powered by artificial intelligence.

London startup Babylon Health has partnered with one of the capital's NHS Trusts for a six month trial of the technology which is being pitched as an alternative to the health services non-emergency 111 number.

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Advice can be given on medical issues with around 12 back and forth messages in under two minutes, the FT reports. It draws advice from a database of illnesses and symptoms.

The startup was founded by Ali Parsa, a former investment banker who also founded the private healthcare company Circle and is backed by the co-founders of the UK's Google-owned DeepMind among others. It has its own app which provides consultations with GPs via video from as little as £5 per month as well as answering medical questions for free.

Parsa told the newspaper that the service could provide "substantial" cost savings for the NHS.

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The 111 number, launched in 2014, is staffed by people with no medical training to offer advice in health issues that are urgent but non-life threatening. It has been beset by difficulties.

Those in Camden, Islington, Enfield and Barnet will be able to test out the service.

Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust is the latest to turn to a technology company. DeepMind has inked partnerships with two London NHS trusts - Royal Free and Imperial College - to develop an app for doctors to monitor patients.

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