The NHS is working with the artificial intelligence (AI) arm of Google, known as DeepMind, in a research programme aimed at diagnosing eye disease at an earlier stage. The collaboration involves Moorfields Eye Hospital in London sharing patient data with DeepMind to develop diagnostic equipment that can interpret eye scans to diagnose degenerative eye disease quicker and earlier than clinicians are currently able.

The project will analyse one million eye scans of patients with degenerative disease alongside information from their medical records over time to try to develop algorithms that can identify early signs of disease. The study will focus on two conditions in particular: diabetic retinopathy, which is thought to be the fastest growing cause of blindness worldwide, and wet age-related macular degeneration, which is increasing in ageing populations.

Eye scans take a long time to review and are clinically complex but it is widely known that early treatment can halt the progress of visual loss and, in some cases, even leads to improvement.

Andrew Clayton of the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team comments: "This research offers real hope of earlier diagnosis and treatment of these devastating conditions, which is key to improving patient outcomes.

"Other collaborations have led to concerns over patient confidentiality but Moorfields insists that all the eye scans being used in the current study are anonymised and patients cannot be identified from the data being used in the research.

"Loss of sight is predicted to double by 2050, particularly because of diseases associated with ageing, such as macular degeneration and diabetes, which are already known to be increasing significantly. Any effort to improve the diagnosis of degenerative eye disease and speed up treatment will be welcome to millions of potential patients."