NHS England has confirmed that a consortium led by Palantir Technologies will develop the software for its planned Federated Data Platform (FDP).
It has announced the award of a contract - which has been widely expected for several months - to run over seven years with a value of up to £330 million, compared with earlier indications of up to £480 million. Other companies in the consortium include Accenture, PwC, NECS and Carnall Farrar.
NHS England has also agreed on a three-year supporting contract with IQVIA for privacy enhancing technology (PET) to strengthen the security of the FDP.
The FDP is intended to support analysis and planning in the health service. It will sit across NHS trusts and integrated care systems (ICSs) in England, enabling them to connect data they already hold, such as patient health records, waiting lists, and theatre and staff rosters, and support work on priorities such as the recovery of elective care and improvement of patient discharge.
Every hospital and ICS will have their own version of the platform to connect with others within the federated model.
The announcement said that no company involved in its development will be able to access data without explicit permission from the NHS.
Joining up care
Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS national director for transformation, said: “Better use of data is essential for the NHS to tackle waiting times, join up patient care and make the health service sustainable for the future.
“Patients come to the NHS at some of the most vulnerable points in their lives, and they want to know that our healthcare teams have access to the best possible information when it comes to their treatment and care.
“This new tool provides a safe and secure environment to bring together data, which enables us to develop and deliver more responsive services for patients and will help the health service drive the recovery in elective care.”
NHS England said that 26 trusts have been running pilots of processes that will be supported by the FDP, with benefits including better organisation of clinics and waiting lists, shorter waiting times and reductions in hospital discharge delays.
Anticipation of the contract has stirred up some controversy, connected with the role of Palantir in supporting national security agencies and fears that it would have access to patient’s personal data. This has prompted the Government to emphasise the security measures within the plans.
Rules and auditability
Announcing the contract award in Parliament, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Victoria Atkins said: “As happens currently, there will be clear rules and auditability covering who can access this data, what they can see, and what they can do.
“Only authorised users will be granted access to data for approved purposes. For example, NHS staff and those supporting them, such as administrators, bed managers or care coordinators, and staff in social care supporting the move from hospital care.
“The provider of the software will not hold or have access to NHS data for any purpose, other than as directed by the NHS; they will not control the data in the platform, nor will they permitted to access, use or share it for their own purposes. The contract makes strict stipulations about confidentiality.
“No new data will be collected, and GP data will not be part of the national platform.”
The contract with IQVIA covers the development of NHS-PET, a national privacy tool for NHS organisations. The procurement has been run separately from that for the FDP and different suppliers chosen to ensure the treatment and storage of data are separate.
Although the value has not yet been stated, earlier this year a procurement notice indicated it would be worth up to £35 million.
Engagement and transparency
The minister said that an advisory board of health and care stakeholders will be set up to shape its implementation, and public engagement will take place throughout the period of the contract. This reflects a call by the national data guardian for health and care for NHS England to be highly transparent about the progress of the programme.
Additional funding has been set aside for future procurements of new products to be built onto the platform.
The NHS Confederation has indicated its support, with some caveats, for the development of the FDP.
Its chief executive Matthew Taylor said: “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.
“For the platform to succeed, it will also be crucial that the public continue to be engaged with, and that any concerns they have on the sharing of their data are addressed meaningfully. Likewise, government and the wider NHS will need to ensure that there are adequate numbers of staff working in digital and patient data roles.
“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.”
Update: Civil activist charity Good Law Project has indicated it will launch a legal challenge to the contract. Its legal manager Ian Browne said:
“It's both totally expected and utterly alarming. Now Palantir is in the driving seat, our fears for patient data – and the lack of transparency about how it's used – have only increased. The current system for opting out has problems that must be fixed right away.
“We’re now preparing legal challenges to make sure the NHS handles our sensitive data properly, giving us all a way to make sure our private health information stays private.”