The most important IT contract within the historical past of NHS England might be awarded as quickly as subsequent week, with the frontrunner at present the controversial US tech agency Palantir.
The £480m contract for the “federated knowledge platform” has been into consideration for months, and was on account of be introduced in September. The method has been delayed however Palantir, in partnership with the consultancy Accenture, continues to be in pole place to win the deal.
Privateness campaigners have raised considerations about giving the contract to Palantir, whose origins are within the US intelligence business. Its founder, Peter Thiel, is a backer of Donald Trump and has accused the NHS of constructing folks sick.
NHS England is believed to favour Palantir on account of its work bettering entry to knowledge throughout the pandemic, serving to to deliver the ready lists down and make operations extra environment friendly.
These are the important thing questions which clarify the background to the deal:
What’s the £480m contract truly for?
The platform is to assist NHS trusts handle knowledge of their hospitals, connecting up data held by totally different trusts and permitting the well being service to attract conclusions about inhabitants well being. The platform can also be meant to assist particular person hospitals handle their knowledge higher and drive enhancements in therapy and ready instances. The aim is to not exchange present IT techniques however to assist them “speak” to one another higher. It isn’t meant to cowl GP medical data at this stage.
Who’re the bidders?
The frontrunner for the contract is Palantir, in partnership with Accenture. Palantir began working significantly with the NHS throughout the pandemic, taking up the work for simply £1. It was given follow-on contracts price about £60m and is now embedded within the system, having apparently proved its price to NHS digital chiefs. The corporate has additionally taken on some former NHS officers, together with the previous AI chief Indra Joshi.
Nevertheless, a rival bidder searching for to muscle in on the deal is Quantexa, a British firm in partnership with IBM, which has former the GCHQ chief Sir Jeremy Fleming as an adviser, in addition to the previous NHS digital chief Matthew Gould.
The third bidder is Oracle Cerner, however it’s now not regarded as a significant contender.
Why is it crucial?
The federal government believes there are big financial savings and enhancements to be made by harnessing the ability of know-how within the NHS. Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, not too long ago made the case within the Occasions that it was “harmful” for NHS techniques to be so fragmented.
Nevertheless, some specialists suppose the £480m contract is scratching the floor of the technological change that the NHS wants and that the deal will should be expanded on within the close to future.
What’s the controversy over privateness?
The storage and use of medical knowledge throughout the NHS has all the time been controversial. A earlier venture to hyperlink up and retailer all sufferers’ medical data in a single database, Care.knowledge, was cancelled in 2016 over considerations that not sufficient privateness safeguards had been put in place.
The £480m federated knowledge platform contract is totally different as a result of it largely pertains to hospital knowledge and affected person data, with the software program used to optimise care and therapy. The NHS and Division for Well being have repeatedly burdened that the contract is for the supplier of software program and that the well being authorities would stay accountable for the information.
Nevertheless, well being ministers not too long ago admitted that the NHS wouldn’t require any additional consent from UK sufferers to make use of their well being knowledge gathered throughout the pandemic in its new working techniques, though folks will be capable to decide out.
The nationwide knowledge guardian for well being and grownup social care in England, Dr Nicola Byrne, has urged NHS England to “keep away from widespread pitfalls round belief and transparency which have pissed off earlier initiatives”.
Why do NHS and authorities insiders suppose Palantir will win the contract?
Palantir is already fairly embedded throughout the NHS, with pilots of its Foundry software program rolled out throughout many hospital trusts. A number of have suspended use, principally over considerations about whether or not they have the capability to start working with the brand new software program.
Others have demonstrated efficiencies by utilizing the brand new Foundry system, together with a 28% ready listing discount at Chelsea and Westminster NHS basis belief.
It’s also politically nicely related. Fleetwood Technique, a agency co-founded by Rishi Sunak’s election guru, Isaac Levido, has carried out advisor lobbying for Palantir this 12 months, as did International Counsel, co-founded by New Labour architect Peter Mandelson, in 2022.
What are the actual considerations round Palantir?
Palantir has been seen with suspicion within the UK over its historical past arising from the US spy business and hyperlinks with the CIA. Thiel, its founder and chair, who was a notable monetary backer of Trump, has claimed the UK has “Stockholm syndrome” in relation to its affection for the well being service. In distinction, Palantir’s chief government, Alex Karp, has stated he wished the US “had a healthcare system that served the poor and underserved in addition to I understand the British system does”.
David Davis, the Conservative former Brexit secretary, who beforehand led the marketing campaign towards ID playing cards, is a type of with critical privateness considerations about Palantir’s bid. He’s amongst at the very least a dozen MPs and friends throughout the political spectrum who’ve pressed the federal government for extra reassurances about how affected person knowledge will probably be handled as the brand new knowledge working system is constructed.
Earlier this 12 months, a spokesperson for Palantir stated: “Whether or not our help for the Covid vaccine rollout, the 28% ready listing discount we’ve helped ship at Chelsea and Westminster NHS basis belief, or the event of software program proved to assist velocity up most cancers analysis, knowledge privateness and safety are all the time paramount in all of our work.
“As a software program firm, we don’t accumulate or monetise knowledge – we merely present the instruments to assist prospects organise and perceive their very own data. And exactly as a result of our software program is utilized in a few of the most delicate data environments on the earth, it’s constructed to make sure data-sharing is managed, auditable and in accordance with customer-defined functions solely.”
Why might Quantexa probably gatecrash the deal?
Whereas the NHS has discovered Palantir software program helpful, there’s a probability it might conclude that its historical past is simply too controversial. Quantexa is an AI firm that has positioned itself a British various and boosted its probabilities with some huge hires.