Palantir bags £330M NHS data bonanza despite privacy fears
Award follows £1 deal during pandemic and £60 million in non-competitive contracts
Palantir has secured a £330 million ($412 million) contract to provide the NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP), which the world's largest healthcare provider says is vital to recover from its pandemic backlog.
After a delay of more than eight weeks, NHS England said the data analytics technology from Palantir would support the FDP, designed to join up information held in separate NHS systems to help solve the problems faced by the taxpayer-funded organization.
The winning bid was supported by consultancies Accenture and PwC, as well as NECS, an NHS-owned service provider, and Carnall Farrar, a healthcare consulting and data firm.
NHS England said the contract would last seven years and cost £330 million ($412 million). It expects to invest £25.6 million ($32 million) in the platform in the first year. The deal was initially tendered as a five-year contract with a two-year extension option, with a maximum value of up to £480 million ($600 million).
The non-departmental public body has awarded a separate three-year contract for NHS Privacy Enhancing Technology (NHS-PET) to IQVIA, a healthcare technology and consulting firm. The value of that deal was not disclosed.
Palantir became part of NHS England's thinking during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. By providing technology in a £1 contract, arranged without a competitive process, it went on to win business worth £1 million ($1.25 million), then a £23 million (#28.7 million) contract was signed in December 2020, again without competition. More recent extension deals mean the analytics software company has won a total of £60 million ($75 million) from the NHS without competing against other companies that provide similar software.
NHS England has maintained that the FDP competition has been fair and open since it began in April last year. The main product so far has been based on Palantir's Foundry data integration layer. The most common execution engine on the platform is Apache Spark, an open source technology.
"Health leaders will welcome the introduction of the Federated Data Platform as an important tool to help organisations across the NHS more rapidly connect and access data, free up vital clinical time and deliver more efficient, faster and safe care for patients," said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS hospitals and healthcare commissioners.
However, he noted that newly created Integrated Care Systems, the main intended users of the FDP, have already started buying their own technology and will be free to continue to use it.
"We hope the new platform will offer much-needed capacity for many Integrated Care Systems and for those systems that have already built their own effective platforms, we welcome both the assurance that they will be able to decide if and when to opt into it, and that they will continue to be supported," he said in a statement.
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Why critics are worried
Campaigners have raised concerns about data privacy and patient confidentiality on the FDP. NHS England said no company involved in the FDP would be able to access health and care data without the explicit permission of the NHS. All data within the platform is under the control of the NHS and will only be used for direct care and planning.
It will not be used to access data for research purposes and GP data will not feed into the national version of the software platform. However, earlier this year, a spokesperson explained that "locally, and based on local agreements between GP Data Controllers and [Integrated Care Boards], GP data already forms an essential part of local population health planning and management. Therefore, the FDP will have the capability to ingest local primary care [GP] data onto local tenants of FDP. There are no plans to flow this data nationally."
Earlier this year, one official likened it to using Microsoft Word online. The cloud has access to that Word document, but the user would not expect Microsoft to be looking at that document, they said.
Others have raised concerns about vendor lock-in, given the potential difficulty of moving data off Palantir's platform and into another system should the NHS decide to change providers.
In summer, the National Data Guardian, Dr Nicola Byrne, said: "People want to understand the arrangements to ensure the NHS does not find itself locked into a relationship with any specific vendor. The consequences of which can include rising costs, no redress against inadequate performance, and prohibitive charges for changes. People want to be assured that the NHS will maintain control and that its own workforce will continue to upskill in digital, data and technology." ®