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GPs concerned over patient data use as US company awarded £25m contract

GPs concerned over patient data use as US company awarded £25m contract
By Emma Wilkinson
23 June 2023

GP leaders have expressed concerns over safe use of patient data as the Government awarded a major contract to ‘a huge US-based multinational company’.

NHS England has awarded a £24.9m contract to US-based company, Palantir, to ‘transition’ existing NHS projects into a new federated data platform.

The move was reported by HSJ, which said the 12-month deal was awarded without an open tender process.

It follows growing concerns about the NHS’s relationship with Palantir, which is the frontrunner to win the overall federated data platform contract worth £480m.

NHS England is investing in a data platform to enable NHS organisations to bring together operational data that is currently stored in separate systems to ‘understand patterns, solve problems and plan services for local populations’.

The ‘federated’ data platform means every hospital and Integrated Care System (ICS) will be able to connect and collaborate with other data platforms to make it easier for health and care organisations to work together.

NHS staff will be able to better access the information they need securely to reduce the time spent chasing referrals, scheduling appointments and waiting for test results, NHS England said in its prospectus document.

But HSJ reported that some NHS leaders and rival companies say the Palantir is being given an ‘unfair competitive advantage’. And the BMA’s GP Committee raised concerns about what the contracts would mean for use of patient data.

The full contract expected to be granted in the coming months is worth £480m. Palantir’s platform was initially used to support the NHS Covid-19 response but has grown and changed since that time.

It is now the platform which underpins a programme to improve data integration for better elective care coordination.

NHS England said while it was not an open process the contract had been awarded via an official government framework.

The £24.9m deal was published on a government contracts website and started on 20 June.

‘NHS England has put in place a new 12-month contract for the transition from the Palantir Foundry platform to the new Federated Data Platform & Associate Services (FDP-AS) supplier,’ it said.

Responding to the reports, Dr David Wrigley, digital lead of BMA’s GP committee, said: ‘GPs have long raised concerns about the appropriate use of patient data, and today’s decision by the Government to give £25m to a huge US-based multinational company, to do further work on a large NHS patient data project, only exacerbates these concerns.

‘The crux of the doctor-patient relationship is trust, and while GPs are supportive of safe and consensual uses of patient data – such as for direct care and legitimate research purposes – we want to see it done in a way that won’t damage the confidence that patients have in the profession, and the care they receive.

‘The BMA calls on NHSE and the Department of Health and Social Care to urgently discuss with us how they plan to use confidential patient data within this data platform and what role Palantir will play.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The new interim contract will ensure there is no gap in service provision and support the smooth transition from one platform to another.

‘The [FDP] procurement process is separate to this and is taking place in accordance with strict procurement rules.

‘The successful supplier of the [FDP] will be required to go through due diligence before the contract is awarded, and through various stages throughout its lifetime.’

In February, the Government’s efforts to advance NHS digitisation – including the GPDPR programme to extract data from GP records for research and planning purposes – were rated inadequate by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.

This included a conclusion by the MPs that there has been ‘no meaningful progress in 10 years’ on the Government’s commitment to implement a mechanism to de-identify data on collection from GP practices.

Meanwhile, the BMA is preparing a legal challenge on the Government’s imposed contractual mandate for GP practices to give automatic access to prospective patient records via the NHS app by October.

This article first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.

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