Contract for England's controversial health data platform delayed

NHS also launches £2M project to engage patients with data strategy

The contract award for the £480 million ($588 million) NHS Federated Data Platform – a huge analytics project for one of the world's largest healthcare providers – has been delayed by a few weeks.

When the competition was formally launched in January, official documents suggested keen bidders – controversial spy-tech firm Palantir has said the deal is a "must-win" – would know the outcome by the time the contract started on September 28.

NHS England officials have now delayed the announcement of the winning bidder until mid-October.

The start of the competition was also delayed. Early supplier engagement over the FDP, which will follow on from the NHS's COVID data platforms run by Palantir, began in April 2022, with the price pegged at a maximum of £240 million ($294 million). The official notice estimated the formal competition for the contract would begin in June, but it was delayed by six months.

The price of the project was increased on two occasions, first to £360 million and then again to £480 million.

Critics have argued that the procurement favors Palantir, which has courted controversy by servicing security and immigration enforcement contracts for the US government.

The company, founded by Trump-backer Peter Thiel, has already become deeply involved in the NHS data strategy. By winning a £1 contract, without competition, in the early stages of the pandemic, it went on to win a £1 million ($1.2 million) deal, and then a £23 million ($28 million) contract signed in December 2020, again without competition. More recent extension deals mean the analytics software company has won £60 million ($73.5 million) from the NHS without competing against other companies that provide similar software.

While some use cases established in the existing Palantir system are set to be moved over to the FDP, NHS England has denied the competition unfairly favors the US supplier.

Meanwhile, NHS England has launched a £2 million ($2.4 million) campaign to "engage" with patients over how it plans to use their data, including with the FDP project.

The plan was to ensure members of the public would be asked to help shape how the NHS uses their health data to improve patient care, according to the health quango.

In a prepared statement, NHS chief data and analytics officer Ming Tang said: "It's so important that the public are involved and able to inform – and have confidence in – what we're doing to improve the NHS's use of data to help save more lives. These events are all about building that confidence and ensuring the public can have a key voice in shaping the way our vital programmes use data to improve patient care in the NHS."

In August, the legal guardian of NHS data raised concerns with NHS England about its planned use of patient data on the FDP.

National data guardian Dr Nicola Byrne warned that if any data program does not have a strong enough voice in the public discourse and there is a lack of trust, it creates a knowledge gap. "And in this gap, alternative narratives can take hold, becoming a breeding ground for speculation, misinformation and discontent. Where this discontent is not engaged with, it quickly grows into groundswells of opposition, making it more difficult to build or earn trust going forward," she said. ®

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