US tech giant Palantir is the ‘wrong company’ to lead the planned NHS ‘federated’ data platform, a former Cabinet minister has warned.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, former ‘Brexit secretary’ David Davis argued that the Government’s inability to protect patient privacy means the latest NHS data-sharing venture is doomed to failure like its predecessors.
GP leaders expressed concerns over safe use of patient data back in June when NHS England awarded Palantir a £24.9m contract to ‘transition’ existing NHS projects into the new federated data platform. Palantir is also understood to be the frontrunner to win the £480m contract to run the new platform.
What is the federated data platform?
The ‘federated’ data platform is planned 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’.
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, according to NHS England, which also said 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.
Speaking in a debate following the state opening of Parliament yesterday, the MP for Haltemprice and Howden noted that it is ‘widely accepted’ that the UK has ‘one of the greatest information treasure troves in the world in the form of national health service data’.
But he said at least two previous attempts to ‘bring that data together and manage it in one block, so that it is available for managing the treatment of patients and for research’ have failed ‘because the national health service executive and management do not understand the importance of privacy’.
‘Each time they tried to do it, the reaction from GPs and patients was, “We are not going to co-operate with this.” There was a vast waste of money, and the projects crashed and were over.’
This led not only to a ‘vast waste of money’ but ‘more importantly’ the ‘missed opportunity’ to ‘use that data for research to advance this country to the front of the world’, said Mr Davis.
And he went on to warn that the Government is ‘doing the same again this time, because the contract has gone out, and it looks likely that the company that will win it is Palantir’.
‘For those who do not know Palantir, it started, I think, with an investment from the CIA. Its history is largely in supporting the National Security Agency in America. Bluntly, it is the wrong company to put in charge of our precious data resource; even if it behaved perfectly, nobody would trust it.’
Mr Davis said: ‘The thing that destroyed the last two attempts will destroy this one: people will not sign up and join up. The health service has got to get its act together on this. If it does, and privacy is protected, we can do things like having a complete nationwide DNA database. If privacy is not protected, that will not happen. There is an opportunity there, and the Government should grasp it, not drop it.’
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, which is currently on hold – were rated inadequate by the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee.
This followed the failed rollout of care.data, which saw every single household in England receive a leaflet about the upcoming changes in 2014, in an information campaign which cost millions, only for the programme to finally be scrapped in 2016.
In September this year, NHS England announced £2m of funding for an engagement campaign to gather views from patients on how data in their GP record is used, including in relation to the federated data platform venture.