US tech giant Palantir has been awarded a seven-year contract worth £330m to deliver NHS England’s new ‘federated data platform’ (FDP).
NHSE announced that the FDP, which aims to bring together operational data from different organisations to boost collaboration, will be rolled out from spring next year.
Data hosted on the platform could include the number of beds in a hospital, staff rotas, social care places, or the elective waiting list size – but NHSE has said it will not include GP data at a national level.
The value of the contract had previously been advertised as £480m, however NHS England has confirmed that over the seven-year contractual period there will be ‘up to £330m investment’ in the FDP.
The company was founded in the US in 2003 and is well known for clients such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Department of Defense.
GP leaders expressed concerns over the company and the safe use of patient data back in June when NHSE awarded Palantir a £24.9m contract to ‘transition’ existing NHS platforms into the new FDP.
Last week, the BMA told the Government it has ‘no faith’ in the FDP plans and that NHSE’s failure to perform a ‘full and considered ethical review’ of Palantir has ‘cultivated fear amongst patients’ about how their data will be used.
The union has said news of the final contract award is ‘deeply worrying’ after yesterday making a ‘final attempt’ to urge Government to ‘rethink’ the decision.
The BMA’s representative body chair Dr Latifa Patel said: ‘This contract is valued at an eye-watering amount – money which is desperately needed for direct care to help patients right now, and other health and social care services which remain in such crisis, not to mention the ongoing workforce shortages.
‘Going forward, we cannot and must not allow patient data to be exploited. We need to know just how confidential patient data will be used within this data platform and the extent of the role that Palantir, which has commercial interest in this decision, will play.’
NHS England has said that companies involved in the FDP will not be able to access health and care data ‘without the explicit permission of the NHS’, and the platform ‘will not be used to access data for research purposes’.
The national commissioner also emphasised that ‘GP data will not feed into the national version of the software platform’.
However, on a frequently asked questions page, NHS England said GP data may be used in local versions of the platform.
‘FDP does not change data controllership arrangements so if there is data sharing agreement between integrated care system (ICS) and GPs locally to share data for care co-ordination then they can use the local version of FDP for that purpose,’ the webpage said.
It also said that patient data can only be accessed by ‘people who need to see it as part of their role in the NHS’.
Last week, a former Cabinet minister David Davis warned that Palantir is the ‘wrong company’ to lead the data platform, and that the Government’s inability to protect patient privacy means this latest NHS data-sharing venture is doomed to failure like its predecessors.
NHS national director for transformation Dr Vin Diwakar said: ‘This new tool provides a safe and secure environment to bring together data, which enables us to develop and deliver more responsive services for patients and will help the health service drive the recovery in elective care.’
Palantir CEO Alex Carp said the award is the ‘culmination of 20 years’ of developing software that can integrate data in a way that ‘protects security, respects privacy and puts the customer in full control’.
‘There is no more important institution in the UK than the NHS and we are humbled to have now been chosen to provide that software across England to help bring down waiting lists, improve patient care and reduce health inequalities,’ Mr Karp added.
In response to the announcement, NHS Confederation chief executive, Matthew Taylor said health leaders ‘will welcome’ the FDP as it could ‘free up vital clinical time’ and deliver faster care for patients.
But he warned: ‘For the platform to succeed, it will also be crucial that the public continue to be engaged with, and that any concerns they have on the sharing of their data are addressed meaningfully.’
In September, NHS England announced £2m of funding for an engagement campaign to gather views from patients on how data in their GP record is used – NHS data projects such as the federated data platform will be discussed at these events.
This article first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.