A group led by a US tech giant has been handed a £330 million contract to provide a new data platform for the NHS, it has been confirmed.
The companies, led by Palantir Technologies UK, will provide a new shared software system known as the NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP), which will aim to make it easier for health and care organisations to work together and provide better services to patients.
Palantir will be supported by Accenture, PwC, NECS and Carnall Farrar, NHS England said.
It added that “no company involved in the Federated Data Platform can access health and care data without the explicit permission of the NHS”.
The move comes after concerns were raised about Palantir’s involvement in the deal earlier this summer, when the company was handed a £25 million contract without competition to put in place transition arrangements.
It sparked renewed criticism over the decision to exclude the NHS from new procurement reforms, aimed at ensuring transparency in the awarding of contracts.
The £330 million investment in the FDP will be made over the course of seven years, with investment in the first 12 months expected to be “at least” £25.6 million.
Palantir was co-founded by billionaire tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who was an early backer of former US president Donald Trump, and has worked with the US government.
Its chief executive Alex Karp said: “This award is the culmination of 20 years of developing software that enables complex, sensitive data to be integrated 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.”
Last month, Mr Karp said NHS patients’ data will be safe in his company’s hands and that NHS problems – including record high waiting lists of 7.77 million – are “not solvable without technology”.
Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme on October 29, he told Victoria Derbyshire: “We’re the only company of our size and scale that doesn’t buy your data, doesn’t sell your data, doesn’t transfer it to any other company.
“That data belongs to the Government of the United Kingdom.”
He added that Palantir “wouldn’t even be able to” use the data for its own purposes, saying: “The way our product is set up, I don’t have access to your data.”
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS national director for transformation, said “better use of data is essential for the NHS to tackle waiting times, join up patient care and make the health service sustainable for the future”.
He added: “Patients come to the NHS at some of the most vulnerable points in their lives, and they want to know that our healthcare teams have access to the best possible information when it comes to their treatment and care.
“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.”
However, earlier this week, the British Medical Association (BMA) urged the Government and NHS England to “think again”.
Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair at the union, said: “We have has raised significant and sustained concerns about how patient data is shared across the NHS, and we are again highlighting our deep concerns about the impending decision to award an external company the rights to the FDP because of our fears about how patient information is handled.”
The BMA wrote to the Department of Health and Social Care this month to highlight concerns, it said.
“We ask that the new Secretary of State takes the time to properly consider all aspects of this decision and we encourage Victoria Atkins MP to meet with us to discuss the threats in the contract and the platform,” Dr Patel added.
“The wheels to the decision may have been in motion before she arrived in post, but she cannot distance herself from this.”
In June, Palantir announced plans to make the UK its new European HQ for AI development, with the Government saying that showed the strength of the UK’s expertise.
Professor Andrew Morris, director of Health Data UK (HDR UK) at the National Institute for Health Data Science, said: “The highest performing health systems internationally have whole system intelligence – the ability to follow journeys of care of patients to ensure care is person-centred, safe, effective, efficient, equitable and timely. This is underpinned by data.
“It is vital that data is used well in the NHS as it supports the best treatment and care by ensuring complete, secure and up-to-date information is available to healthcare professionals at the right time. It’s what we expect as patients.”
He added that the NHS intends to use the FDP “to enable better use of our medical data in the care we receive”, but said “there is a risk”.
“We are worried that concerns about the platform may lead people to use opt-outs that will have no impact on the Federated Data Platform but will harm important medical research,” Prof Morris added.
“Public confidence and demonstrating trustworthiness is crucial.”