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Former NHS AI leader joins US spy-tech firm Palantir

Move coincides with NHS England's procurement of a far-reaching data platform

US surveillance-tech supplier Palantir has hired a one-time director of AI for NHSX – the former UK health service digital agency.

Indra Joshi quit her role at the end of March as NHSX and NHS Digital were merged into NHS England, a non-departmental government body.

Her arrival at Palantir will raise concerns among NHS watchers and privacy campaigners.

Palantir largely carries out information analysis and processing work for the defense and intelligence communities, often creating bespoke solutions such as digital-profiling tools for organisations like the CIA and ICE.

The firm was founded by prominent Donald Trump financier and PayPal investor Peter Thiel.

The company has provided a data platform for NHS England described as "supporting" the health service's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June 2020, the UK government published details of Palantir's contract – along with contracts for Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and UK AI firm Faculty working on the same project – just days after campaigners fired legal shots over a lack of transparency.

In December 2020, NHS England signed a two-year $29.91 million (£23 million) contract with Palantir, without scrutiny. In March 2021, the government caved at the threat of a judicial review into the deal, making three key concessions, including an agreement that it would not extend the spy-tech firm's role without consulting the public.

As director of AI for NHSX, Joshi signed contracts and oversaw a grant scheme to fund tech companies to develop AI to improve disease diagnostics, giving companies access to NHS patient datasets, according to Bloomberg.

Her arrival at Palantir coincides with NHS England's procurement of a $309 million (£240 million) data platform to help in the reorganization of the health service and COVID-related backlog.

The "Federated Data Platform" will be "an essential enabler to transformational improvements across the NHS," according to the tender notice. The health service in England, which spends around $176 billion (£136 billion) annually, is in the middle of a transition to Integrated Care Systems and attempting to recover from a six-million-patient backlog following the pandemic.

The procurement is in its early stages and a contract notice is expected to be published in June.

Joshi left the NHS on March 31 but NHS guidelines prevent former employees from lobbying or recruiting old colleagues for six months after joining the private sector.

A Palantir spokesman said: "Palantir hires the best and brightest people from public and private sector organisations around the world. We are delighted that Indra has agreed to join the team, which we are aiming to grow by 250 in the UK this year.

"Indra has extensive experience of cutting-edge technologies and their real-world application. She has helped lead standards and best practice in data and AI governance with both the UK and international bodies. Indra will work with Palantir's many customers to help improve their operations and transform their businesses.

"We are proud of the work we have done with NHS over the last two years in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which included helping to power the NHS's COVID-19 vaccination programme."

An NHS spokesperson said: "All our employees are contractually required to follow strict post-employment restrictions, which includes them not being permitted for six months to lobby or influence for a new employer." ®

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