There is currently no specific legislation in the UK that governs AI, or its use in healthcare. Instead, a number of general-purpose laws apply. These laws, such as the rules on data protection and medical devices, have to be adapted to specific AI technologies and uses. They sometimes overlap, which can cause confusion for businesses trying to identify the relevant requirements that have to be met, or to reconcile potentially conflicting provisions.

As a step towards a clearer, more coherent approach, on 18 July, the UK government published a policy paper on regulating AI in the UK. The government proposes to establish a pro-innovation framework of principles for regulating AI, while leaving regulatory authorities discretion over how the principles apply in their respective sectors. The government intends the framework to be “proportionate, light-touch and forward-looking” to ensure that it can keep pace with developments in these technologies, and so that it can “support responsible innovation in AI – unleashing the full potential of new technologies, while keeping people safe and secure”. This balance is aimed at ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of such developments.

The government’s proposal is broadly in line with the MHRA’s current approach to the regulation of AI. In the MHRA’s response to the consultation on the medical devices regime in the UK post-Brexit, it announced similarly broad-brush plans for regulating AI-enabled medical devices. In particular, no definition of AI as a medical device (AIaMD) will be included in the new UK legislation, and the regime is unlikely to set out specific legal requirements beyond those being considered for software as a medical device. Instead, the MHRA intends to publish guidance that clinical performance evaluation methods should be used for assessing safety and meeting essential requirements of AIaMD, and has also published the Software and AI as a medical device change programme to provide a regulatory framework with s a high degree of protection for patients and public.

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On 7 April 2020, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) issued a Notice to sponsors on validation and qualification of computerised systems used in clinical trials (Notice). This Notice was developed by the EMA’s GCP Inspectors Working Group (IWG) and the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) to highlight for clinical trial sponsors the legal and regulatory requirements which apply to software tools used in the conduct of clinical trials.

In addition, the EMA updated the Answers to Questions 8 and 9 of the Agency’s Q&A on Good Clinical Practice (GCP) (GCP Q&A) in line with the Notice.

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Data-driven technologies, particularly artificial intelligence and other complex algorithms, have the potential to enhance patient care and catalyse medical breakthroughs. However, these technologies are heavily reliant on data, which poses challenges in ensuring that patient information is handled in a safe, secure and legally compliant way.

In response to early issues with the deployment of artificial intelligence and other algorithmic tools in healthcare, on 5 September 2018 the UK Department of Health & Social Care (DH) published an Initial Code of Conduct for Developers and Suppliers of Data-driven Health and Care Technology (the Code). The Code is not legally binding but aims to raise standards by establishing best practices.

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On 28 June, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union gave his opinion on the SNITEM and Philips France case against France. In this case, the Conseil d’Etat in France asked whether a particular software programme intended to be used by doctors to support prescribing decisions falls within the definition of medical device as provided by Directive 93/42/EEC (Medical Devices Directive).


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