Individual data platforms for all health providers under controversial NHS plans

Procurement under threat of legal action imagines trusts will tailor systems for their own use cases

NHS England wants to provide every hospital trust with its own data platform, in a procurement US spy-tech company Palantir is hotly tipped to win.

Hospitals and integrated care systems (ICSs), which plan care on a regional basis, will be able to create their own data platforms on the system, and share those systems with any other provider on Britain's planned national Federated Data Platform (FDP).

The project is already the subject of a legal challenge, owing to questions about NHS England's failure to produce a data protection impact assessment on the FDP. Health data to be shared on the system is a special category under the European Convention of Human Rights, lawyers representing campaign groups pointed out.

The platform is expected to be a cloud-based SaaS solution which will enable the use and sharing of data in a safe and secure environment, according to NHS England. The £480 million ($597 million) competition for the deal kicked off in January and the government is set to pick a winner in September. Palantir, the controversial US data analytics company, is thought to see the deal as "must-win" and currently provides COVID Data Store and Faster Data Flows systems – which will see some of their functionality moved to the FDP when the procurement is complete.

In an NHS England board paper published earlier this month, the body explained: "Every hospital trust and ICS will have their own platform that can connect and collaborate with other data platforms, making it easier for health and care organisations to work together to achieve better improvements in care and outcomes for patients than they could each achieve individually."

NHS England claimed local trials of the data platform had helped trusts to remove up to 16 percent of their waiting list through "error identification." A discharge pilot helped one trust cut patients staying 21 days or more to 12 percent over 12 months; the national average is 20 percent.

According to the procurement prospectus, NHS England will not mandate use of the centrally procured FDP, which will require trusts and ICSs to build their own use cases.

"It will be of benefit for trusts and ICSs to use the platform to support Use Cases they wish to adopt. Trusts and ICSs will have the autonomy to use the platform to address their own key challenges and priorities," it wrote.

Tim Ferris, NHS England's national director of transformation, told a board meeting earlier this month: "The goal here is that every ICS will have its own platform for local innovations to build tools like Chelsea and Westminster built to reduce their waiting list by maximising the use of their the data from all their different systems.

"That federated data platform can then be shared to any organisation within the country because of the very federated nature of the data platform."

In its prospectus for the procurement, NHS England said only "de-identified data" would flow to central platforms for "specific, necessary and pre-agreed planning purposes."

Nonetheless, those concerned about the NHS health provider's ability to maintain confidentiality given the complexity of the online system will not be reassured by news that trusts have shared implicit medical details of patients with Facebook without consent – despite promising never to do so.

The Observer has reported that the covert tracking tool Meta Pixel – present on 20 NHS trusts' websites – has shared details of pages viewed, buttons clicked and keywords searched with the social media giant. It links the details to the user's IP address and details of their Facebook account.

An NHS England spokesperson said: "NHS trusts are responsible for their own websites, and they must follow data protection laws in relation to the use of cookies on their websites. The NHS is looking into this issue and will take further action if necessary." ®

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