Secondary care minister Andrew Stephenson stresses that platform suppliers will be tasked with creating anonymisation processes, will not control data, and will act only under orders from the health service
The controversial new Federated Data Platform – based on technology from Palantir – “will be more secure than anything currently used in the NHS”, a minister has claimed.
The FDP system will be underpinned by the technology company’s Foundry platform. Supporting Palantir in delivering the platform in the coming months will be a consortium of partners including Accenture, PwC, NECS and Carnall Farrar. The firms have jointly signed a five-year deal worth an initial £360m – a figure which could rise to £480m if the contract runs to its full potential length of seven years.
Health and secondary care minister Andrew Stephenson said: “The Federated Data Platform… will see new software made available to trusts to manage their data, to deliver better outcomes to patients. The pilots identified benefits including shorter waiting lists, and quicker discharges from hospital. The software will be more secure than anything currently used in the National Health Service thanks to new privacy enhancing technology, which will provide robust protection and a standard approach to support safe data access and use.”
A separate deal to provide deliver the privacy-enhancing technology system – which will be used for the first time alongside the FDP – has been awarded to healthtech firm Iqvia.
Stephenson’s comments were made in answer to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Chi Onwurah, who asked “what anonymisation process [the Department of Health and Social Care] plans to use for the Federated Data Platform”.
The minister indicated that the platform’s suppliers will be tasked with developing anonymisation processes. He added that the programme’s private-sector partners will not serve as data-controllers, but will only process information as directed by the health service.
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“The supplier of the FDP will only operate under the instruction of the NHS when processing data on the platform. The supplier will not control the data in the platform, nor will they [be] permitted to access, use, or share it for their own purposes. The contract contains strict stipulations about confidentiality, and there is governance in place to monitor delivery and usage. As part of the FDP Programme mobilisation, the team are working with the suppliers to design anonymisation processes in line with data-minimisation arrangements and in accordance with the policies outlined above.”
Palantir Foundry had formed the basis of the FDP’s precursor, the Covid Data Store, and the big data firm had been widely expected to win the contract to deliver the new system. The company’s victory, however, is no less controversial for its predictability.
Critics of the decision to award the deal to Palantir have included human-rights charity Amnesty International and doctors’ union the British Medical Association.
BMA representative body chair he union’s representative body chair Dr Latifa Patel described the choice as “deeply worrying”.
“This contract is valued at an eye-watering amount – money which is desperately needed for direct care to help patients right now, and other health and social care services which remain in such crisis, not to mention the ongoing workforce shortages,” she added. “Going forward, we cannot and must not allow patient data to be exploited. We need to know just how confidential patient data will be used within this data platform and the extent of the role that Palantir, which has commercial interest in this decision, will play. We hope to continue to work with NHS England to ensure our members’ and patients’ concerns are addressed.”