The government has reportedly held talks with data analytics company Palantir to boost the Test and Trace programme.
The US company could be drafted in to manage sensitive contact-tracing information after an Excel blunder saw thousands of positive cases go unreported.
The tech company’s Foundry software would be used to enhance information about new Covid-19 cases in England, according to the Financial Times.
It could also potentially allow new modelling to track the spread of the disease.
Discussions with the company have focused on licensing its software to the Test and Trace programme with a long-term aim to secure deeper insights about the way the virus is spreading, according to Financial Times sources.
This would allow the government to act more quickly to outbreaks – something Test and Trace has been criticised for in recent weeks.
The system has been plagued with IT glitches and poor performance on reaching close contacts of people who had tested positive.
Last month an inquiry was launched after nearly 16,000 cases of Covid-19 went unreported between 25 September and 2 October.
The bungle was reportedly due to an error with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It is believed Public Health England (PHE) developers used an old file format known as XLS, which can only handle about 65,000 rows of data. When the spreadsheet reached its maximum size it prevent new cases from being added to the file.
Palantir’s technology would be used in a bid to prevent an error like this from happening again through allowing the company to manage Test and Trace data, if talks progress further.
Palantir already holds an NHS contract related to the pandemic after it was drafted in the support work on the Covid-19 Data Store. The company has built analytical dashboards accessible by NHS England and Improvement staff to help inform the national response to the virus.
Work on the Data Store began in April with Palantir’s contract extended for four months in July. A procurement process is currently open for a supplier to provide a platform to continue the work of the NHS Covid-19 data store.
Digital Health News understand the contract could be worth up to £18m a year over five-years, totalling almost £100m by the of it.
The procurement will be awarded under the GCloud framework, which does not require NHS England to publish a tender.
Privacy campaigners have express concerns over Palantir’s involvement with the NHS, particularly any potential access to sensitive data.
The Data Store’s data protection impact assessment (DPIA) published earlier this year raised several questions about transparency particularly around access to data, experts told Digital Health News at the time.
The Department of Health and Social Care did not comment on reported talks with Palantir but said Test and Trace is committed to the “highest ethical and data governance standards”.
“Personal data can only be seen by people who need it to have access to it, for example to carry out contact tracing,” a spokesperson said.
Officials said that while Palantir was involved with Test and Trace studies in care homes there were no plans for any significant changes to the company’s remit.
Palantir was contacted by Digital Health News but declined to comment.