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BMA has ‘no faith’ in NHS federated data platform plans

BMA has ‘no faith’ in NHS federated data platform plans

The BMA has written to the Government with concerns about the NHS federated data platform (FDP) plans, arguing the profession and patients were inadequately consulted.

In a letter to health secretary Steve Barclay, the union said that as things currently stand the BMA ‘has no faith in the FDP, the tendering process and the organisation’ to be the preferred commercial partner.

Meanwhile, the Doctors Association UK (DAUK) has issued a call to pause the project. The organisation has asked the health secretary to ‘take steps to ensure public trust, value for money, a trustworthy partner and patient consent’ before taking it any further.

GP leaders previously expressed concerns over safe use of patient data back in June when NHS England awarded US tech giant 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.

In the letter, BMA’s representative body chair Dr Latifa Patel said: ‘Historically, the NHS has struggled to implement programmes that fundamentally shift the way in which patients’ sensitive and confidential medical information is processed.

‘Both and GP Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR), despite admirable ambitions, failed to secure the support of the public and the profession – ultimately leading to plans being put on hold, before being quietly dropped.

‘I note that although the FDP is distinct – in so far as it will initially be focused on secondary care data, it has fallen short of the same hurdles, chiefly that the public and the profession have not been adequately consulted and reassured and the scope and scale of the programme do not appear to have been sufficiently established.’

The letter seen by Pulse also said that the union has been clear since the FDP was announced that NHS England must ‘scrutinise organisations submitting tenders to ensure a demonstrable positive track record on security, privacy and ethics’.

Dr Patel said: ‘It is not apparent that a full and considered ethical review has been carried out against all potential vendors and in the space left by this inaction, speculation about the role, purpose and scope of Palantir as well as their existing involvement within the NHS data architecture has cultivated fear amongst patients of how their confidential data will be handled.’

She also said that ‘well respected and safe’ alternatives for sharing patient data exist and that doctors and patients must know that sensitive and confidential patient data will not be used for commercial gain.

The letter added: ‘Crucially, it is critical that any new processing of patient data is subject to rigorous and transparent information governance processes.

‘It is imperative that reassurance be given to patients and our profession as soon as possible to stem the number of people choosing to opt-out of data sharing.’

The DAUK also sent a letter, signed by almost 150 doctors including GPs, to Mr Barclay detailing their concerns.

Their letter said: ‘We understand you are due to sign a £480 million contract with Palantir for the FDP. This would be the largest NHS data centralisation project in history.

‘Many of us have worked in the NHS long enough to witness previous, expensive NHS IT projects – from Care.Data to General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) – fail.

‘These projects failed because of patient distrust. We urge you to take immediate action to prevent history repeating itself.

‘The FDP can only succeed if it maintains public trust in the health service by ensuring patients have a say in how their data flows into it and is used within it.’

Last week, a former Cabinet minister warned that Palantir is the ‘wrong company’ to lead the data platform.

Pulse has reached out to Palantir regarding BMA and DAUK concerns but a spokesperson declined to comment.