He National Health Service is to hand over a key role in handling patient data and share a £480m contract to US spy tech firm Palantir this week, The Guardian can reveal.
NHS England is set to confirm Palantir’s joint bid with professional services firm Accenture to run the new NHS “federated data platform” (FDP) has been successful.
It is preparing to make an announcement on Tuesday that is likely to spark intense debate over the security of patient data, public trust in the NHS and Palantir’s suitability to participate in the FDP. The build of the platform is the largest IT contract the NHS has ever awarded.
The contract will be for five years but could be extended to seven.
The platform is designed to help individual hospital trusts and NHS integrated care systems (regional groupings of trusts) share information and “talk” to each other more easily.
NHS bosses and Professor Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, insist the FDP will improve patient care and prevent patients from having to explain what is happening to them to multiple members of staff.
Palantir is best known for its work with military and intelligence agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, such as the CIA. The company gained a foothold in the NHS in March 2020 when, at the invitation of the government, it began analyzing huge amounts of health service data to help with the official response to the developing Covid pandemic.
Peter Thiel, the billionaire chairman and founder of Palantir, came under fire in January after he said in an Oxford Union debate that the British people’s deep affection for the NHS It was equivalent to “Stockholm syndrome”.
In the debate Thiel, who endorsed Donald Trump’s successful bid for the White House in 2016 and became part of his post-election transition team, he also said of the NHS that “in theory, you just tear everything out of the ground and start again.” He also claimed that the NHS “makes people sick”.
NHS England also received bids for the FDP from Quantexa, a British company, along with IBM, and from Oracle Cerner. Palantir already helps the NHS process data and works for the UK Ministry of Defence.
The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, recently wrote to the then health secretary, Steve Barclay, detailing a number of serious concerns that involve privacy and ethics, both about the FDP and about Palantir in particular.
In a Commons debate this month, David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, said Palantir’s close relationship with the CIA meant it was “not the right company to put in charge of our valuable data resource.” Even if he behaved perfectly, no one would trust him,” he told parliamentarians.
In a recent blog postProfessor Sir Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, and other senior staff explained that the FDP “will allow NHS organizations to bring together operational data, currently stored in separate systems, to help staff access the information they need in one safe place. and safe environment.”
They added: “This could be the number of beds in a hospital, the size of waiting lists (for) elective care services or the availability of medical supplies.”
Palantir waged a sustained lobbying campaign to win the contract. It hired consulting firm Global Counsel and benefited from the help of several well-connected key players there, including former Conservative health minister Nicola Blackwood and Matthew Swindells, former deputy chief executive of NHS England, the New York Times reported in September.