Campaigners have warned England’s publicly funded NHS health system that extending its contract with Palantir without meaningful consultation with patients could lead to a challenge in court.
After the decision of the quango of extend its controversial contract with US spy tech firm for six months, and worth £11.5m ($13.68m), data privacy and legal group Foxglove has said NHS England had failed to meet the terms which he agreed to in March of last year after a legal challenge.
We’re old enough to remember the promises in your original blog: that this unprecedented new health data set was an emergency response and would roll back at the end of the pandemic.
In March 2021, The UK government promised not expanding the functions of the NHS Palantir database in England without public consultation under the threat of judicial review from the Foxglove-backed news website openDemocracy.
However, NHS England has awarded the data analytics company, which started out creating bespoke solutions such as digital profiling tools for the CIA and US immigration agency ICE – an extension of the contract well beyond the terms initially established for the system.
During the height of the pandemic in the UK, officials vowed in a blog post to “stop processing and destroy or return the data to England’s NHS” after the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions are no longer in place in the UK.
In an email to RegisterFoxglove director Cori Crider said: “We haven’t seen any of the inquiries they promised during the last legal round on the COVID data warehouse. It seems they have backtracked on the promises they made in that case.”
“Do you realize they don’t call it the Covid data warehouse anymore! We’re old enough to remember the promises in your original blog: that this unprecedented new health data set was an emergency response and would fall apart on end of the pandemic. It’s almost as if officials looking to get data and make it accessible to central government are fooling us all the time,” Crider said.
“If they go ahead with a permanent system without offering meaningful patient options, they will end up in court again.”
NHS England has denied that it was forced to agree to a public inquiry following the threat of judicial review of the COVID-19 data warehouse, but has yet to produce evidence in the form of legal correspondence.
His position comes as NHS England promises to launch a competition for a £360m federated data platform (FDP) designed to help support reform and reduce backlogs of care that are strangling England’s healthcare system.
The contract notice, which kicks off the official competition, was expected in June 2022 but was pushed back to September when an NHS in England said Register would be published. The notice has not yet appeared.
The officials said Register expect recruitment to begin “in the coming weeks.” The same message was given to the Financial Times in November of last year.
The government has also refused to hold a public consultation on FDP as an expanded use of centralized data analytics on personal health information. In July of last year, Minister of State for Care and Mental Health Gillian Keegan told Parliament that NHS England was not proposing to have an open debate on the nature or mandate of the FDP.
Despite the delays, the controversial data platform remains part of England’s NHS plans. In its 2023/24 priorities and guidance for operational planning [PDF]it said the FDP would support “nationally developed functionality, including tools to help maximize capacity, reduce waiting lists and coordinate care.”
He also promised to “accelerate the ambition to reduce the reporting burden on [care] vendors and addressing the need for more timely automated data through the Faster Data Flows (FDF) program, which is independent but linked to the FDP, and is already the subject of a legal warning letter.
Campaign groups including the UK Medical Association, the National Pensioners Convention and Fair Treatment have written to NHS England warning of Palantir’s use of “an extensive and extremely sensitive dataset” without adequate legal guarantees.
With the help of Foxglove, lawyers representing the groups have written to NHS England seeking assurances about the use of the data which includes individual patient NHS numbers, date of birth, postcode, local patient identifiers and data about your admission, hospitalization, discharge and outpatient activity.
At the time, an NHS spokesperson said: “By collecting data in a more streamlined way, the NHS can better plan and allocate resources to maximize outcomes for patients, while ensuring control of the data remains with the NHS. at all times”.
“Ultimately it will help all NHS organizations to better understand their waiting lists and pressures in near real time, they will work as systems and the manual reporting burden on staff will be significantly reduced.” ®