Irish AI firm hopes to reduce NI's hospital waiting lists

  • Photo: Co-founder of, Naomh McElhatton, is from Co Tyrone

    A new Irish university spin-out company, that is using artificial intelligence software to help cut hospital waiting lists, could create up to 20 Belfast-based jobs. has been founded by Co Tyrone woman Naomh McElhatton, formerly a director at recruitment giant Staffline, and Professor Barry O’Sullivan of University College Cork, who is now chief artificial intelligence officer.

    They have designed a tool which they say can help streamline and minimise hospital waiting lists — which continue to worsen in Northern Ireland.

    Speaking to the Ulster Business Podcast with Calibro, Ms McElhatton said the company is seeking initial seed funding of around £500,000, and wants to hire between 15-20 staff in Belfast across a range of areas, with its other base being in Cork.

    “It is a unique proposition. Barry and his team have worked on this for 10 years. It was designed as a piece of research for the (health service) to identify why bottlenecks arise in health in the first place," she told Ulster Business.

    “They have been able to design a model which almost predicts the future, based on historic data.

    “Using artificial intelligence, with machine learning built-in, it gives hospital departments a number of scenarios to enable them to make evidence-based decisions on how they can strategically plan their clinics.”

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    Northern Ireland's hospital waiting lists are currently the worst in the UK, with more than 335,000 waiting on a first consultant-led appointment here, and more than half of those people waiting longer than a year.

    Stormont ministers heard last month that these waiting lists will double in the next five years without urgent investment and reform.

    “At the moment, demand and capacity modelling is as old as time,” Ms McElhatton added. “You have core planning where you have a number of people who all need the same operation and that is just a process, not a waiting list.

    “Where it gets exciting and where we play to our strengths is in the high complexity scenario where you have multiple patient types… where you have that mix of patient categories is where really can help.

    “At the highest level it allows the performance directors and service managers to really have that intel to make those decisions effectively.

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    “A lot of the time, hospital departments don’t actually know the information in and around why their waiting lists are growing.

    "Understanding the data is fundamental to diminishing waiting lists, but also, having realistic expectations and defining what a waiting list is is also something which could be considered.

    “We are probably going to take on about 15-20 people next year. That will be around product development, customer success and support.

    “Once we get this market it will have a bit of a domino effect, where they can sign up themselves, taking the pain away from clinicians… streamlining the process as seamlessly as possible without giving them any extra work.”

    She said “we know that this works and we know that this can help”.

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