Half a billion pound NHS data platform award still stuck in the pipes

Palantir users' endorsement letter could lay the ground for Palantir win

The controversial Federated Data Platform for England's health service looks set for more delays as the government body awarding the £480 million ($582 million) contract – for which Palantir is considered a frontrunner – failed to confirm the winner this week.

The announcement of the deal to provide the platform to amalgamate data from medical records across England was set to arrive at the end of September, according to tender documents. NHS England, the government quango responsible for the award, later said a decision would be announced in the middle of October.

The government wants NHS organizations to use the data platform for performance, management and research. However, patient data advocates are concerned users of medical services could lose control of how their medical records are accessed. Other critics have highlighted that Palantir has an unfair advantage in the competition since it supported the Covid-19 data store during the pandemic, a project which later saw it awarded £60 million ($72 million) in NHS work without competition. It is currently supporting projects which will be rolled into the FDP programme.

Over the last week, NHS England published an open letter signed by 16 doctors in support of the FDP approach to improve data management and help the health service recover its elective care backlogs, which saw 7.5 million people waiting for treatment in the summer, three million more than before the pandemic. The letter includes six doctors from trusts already using Palantir as part of NHS England pilots and three doctors from NHS England itself.

"This new tool [the FDP] will allow us to better manage the data we currently hold in trusts and regions, and apply the lessons learned from the vaccination campaign to deliver faster, more informed patient care, help drive elective recovery, and contribute to long-term challenges like population health management," the letter said.

Sam Smith, coordinator at health privacy campaign group MedConfidential, said publishing the letter would be a strange move if Palantir had not won the contract — set to last seven years — assuming NHS England already knows the winner.

"They published this open letter with a bunch of people saying the FDP will do really good things. But many of them are people who kind of play for Palantir: fine. If Palantir has not won, why is it NHS England publishing the quotes saying how wonderful it all is?" he said.

NHS England has so far declined to comment on further delays to the announcement. It has previously said the competition is fair and open since it formally kicked off in January.

Palantir is said to consider the deal a "must-win" as it attempts to broaden the market for its data products beyond security and military applications where they first found a foothold. ®

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