Navigating the Palantir NHS Contract: A Closer Look at the Federated Data Platform
In a significant move that has sparked both interest and concerns, Palantir, the US data analytics giant, has secured a monumental £330 million contract to operate the NHS's Federated Data Platform (FDP). The FDP, conceived in 2021, is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at uniting operational data across various NHS care systems, promising newfound efficiencies and insights into population health.
The Contract Unveiled
The announcement of the contract in the House of Commons by the recently appointed Health Secretary Victoria Atkins, marks the largest-ever IT contract awarded by the NHS to a private-sector supplier. This collaboration involves Palantir working in conjunction with Accenture, PwC, NECS, and Carnall Farrar to bring the FDP to life. Supporters of the initiative, including NHS England’s Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, envision it as a game-changer that will pool diverse data types, from hospital bed capacities to waiting lists and medical supplies.
Public Trust at the Core
Even before the announcement, concerns about public trust and data privacy regarding Palantir were raised – concerns now fully in the spotlight. The NHS's decision not to allow patients to opt out of sharing their personal medical records for the FDP has triggered a wave of criticism. MPs, doctors, and privacy campaigners have expressed substantial concerns about transparency and communication regarding data usage.
Steve Brine, chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee, emphasized the importance of transparency in allaying public concerns. He stated, “Substantial concerns currently exist among the public about their information and the NHS regarding trust, transparency, and data security.”
Contradictory Statements and U-Turns
The situation is further complicated by seemingly contradictory statements and a perceived U-turn by NHS England. Initial signals suggested that patients would have the right to opt out, but updated FAQs explicitly ruled out this option. The FAQs stated, “No. Patients can only opt out of sharing their data for research and planning, not for direct patient care.”
This has led to concerns that the lack of an opt-out option could undermine public confidence in data-sharing. Cori Crider, the director of Foxglove, a group monitoring big tech and government relationships, warned that the zigzagging over the right to opt out "risks fatally undermining confidence in data-sharing."
Palantir's Track Record
Palantir's involvement with NHS England has not been without controversy. The nature of its partnership, coupled with comments made by Palantir founder Peter Thiel comparing the British public’s support for the NHS to “Stockholm syndrome,” has raised eyebrows.
Denis Campbell, the health policy editor for The Guardian, noted concerns about the opacity of contracts between Palantir and NHS England. Details about a previous contract with the Covid-19 Data Store were released only hours before potential legal action, and despite promises of increased transparency, concerns linger.
Addressing Privacy Concerns
The new Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has responded to these concerns, stating that ongoing public engagement is planned throughout the contract period. She assured the public that there will be clear rules about who can access data contained within the FDP and how that data is processed.
Atkins stated, “Only authorised users will be granted access to data for approved purposes, for example, NHS staff and those supporting them.” Furthermore, a separate contract has been awarded to IQVIA to supply “privacy-enhancing technology” as an additional safeguard. Crucially, Atkins emphasized that the FDP will not go live until this technology is in place.
The Road Ahead
As we navigate this complex landscape, it is evident that the FDP holds immense potential to revolutionize healthcare data management in the NHS. The pooling of diverse data sources promises newfound efficiencies and insights that could significantly benefit patient care.
However, the path forward must address the concerns raised by various stakeholders. Transparency, clear communication, and a commitment to privacy are paramount. The NHS's engagement with the public, as well as ongoing scrutiny from MPs and privacy advocates, will be critical in ensuring that the FDP not only delivers on its promises but does so in a manner that maintains public trust.
In the coming months, as the FDP inches closer to going live, it is imperative that the NHS continues to engage with the public, address concerns, and uphold the highest standards of data privacy. The success of this initiative lies not only in technological advancements but in building a foundation of trust that will propel healthcare data management into a new era.