‘Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to give NHS advice is a ‘terrific’ idea despite last year saying he wouldn’t use one.
It was announced last night that the speaker would be connected to the NHS website so it could answer people’s health questions at home.
But critics have said the setup is a ‘data protection disaster waiting to happen’ because of concerns Amazon holds onto voice recordings.
The move is intended to relieve pressure on NHS staff amid an overhaul of the service to become more digital.
Mr Hancock said technology advances – which allow Alexa to answer questions such as, ‘What are the symptoms of flu?’ – would ‘give back the gift of time’ to GPs.
But, amid an increasingly problematic GP shortage in the UK, the plans were blasted as ‘outrageous’ on social media.
Until now, people asking Alexa a health question would be given an answer based on a variety of popular responses.
But it can now to give answers based on information from the official NHS website, which has been verified by health professionals.
The NHS said the voice-activated assistant will make its advice more accessible to those who struggle to access the internet, such as the blind.
However, The Times reported that Mr Hancock had dismissed the idea of using voice-assisted technology at an event last May when he was culture secretary.
He said that he did not own an Alexa-enabled device ‘and I wouldn’t want one’, adding: ‘I don’t want one because I think there is an essential humanity that we have got to preserve.’ ‘