Despite growing concerns about Palantir’s involvement in the NHS, the company looks to remain the front-runner in the key NHS England data procurement, as it is now embedded in related projects. 

The FT recently reported that the NHS may break up the £360m Federated Data Platform (FDP) contract into several parts but suggested the controversial data analytics firm Palantir still remained in poll position to be the key bidder. 

The contract for a centralised data analytics platform, which has been fancifully described by NHS England as a future ‘operating system for the health service’, is primarily a data analytics platform used to analyse different streams of data. The FDP is not intended to directly support patients’ care. 

Palantir’s Foundry platform remains highly favoured by NHS England. NHS trust sources have told Digital Health News that they are also being strongly encouraged by NHS England officials to adopt Palantir’s Foundry data platform for other projects ahead of the national FDP procurement. 

One local leader said: “I wish they’d stop telling us to take Foundry just because it’s their latest flavour of the month.”  

Palantir is already involved in another linked NHS initiative, Faster Data Flow, an NHS pilot to upload patient data, which is now the subject of a legal threat from campaign groups who claim it appears to ignore data protection and procurement laws.  

According to the Register, the Faster Data Flow pilot is set to “collect patient level identifiable data pertaining to admission, inpatient, discharge and outpatient activity from acute care settings on a daily basis” without consulting patients or giving them the choice of opting out. 

Another NHS source said, “The usual rules on patient data, consent and governance seem to cease to apply when big US tech companies like Google Health or Palantir rock up and make big promises, senior NHS leaders seem to lose their critical faculties.”  

NHS England officials claim the future FDP will bring together a range of data sources to provide NHS managers and senior civil servants with the insight to make better decisions.   

The centralising move comes when the 42 local Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are meant to be driving local health policy and decisions. 

According to NHS England the FDP will track population health and ‘person insight’, care coordination, elective recovery, vaccines, and supply chains. 

Palantir have been in poll position for the FDP procurement since initially offering its services for ‘free’ to NHS policymakers during the pandemic, providing data analytics to help plan and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, in areas such as PPE and vaccines. 

In doing so they managed to convince policy leaders at NHS England that they needed a panopticon-like view of NHS activity. Palantir then won a £1m contract extension followed by a £23m, two-year deal in December 2020. 

They’ve also been influential in shaping the £360m procurement they are now bidding to win. A contract that has already ballooned from an initial estimated value of £240m. Some estimates suggest the deal may actually be worth £1 billion over ten years. 

This compares to an estimated £1.8 billion of national investment on provider digitisation over the next four years. That is investment in those systems that directly support patient care.  

With such limited investment available for digital initiatives, critics say the FDP risks soaking up investment that is critically needed in the estimated 25% of NHS trusts that still lack basic electronic patient records (EPRs). 

It also partly duplicates data capabilities already developed by NHS Digital, the arms-length that NHS England is currently taking over.    

As it ramps up to try to win the lucrative FDP contract, Palantir has hired senior digital leaders from NHSX, the former digital arm of NHS England, including Indra Joshi, former head of the NHS AI Lab 

It has also hired Harjeet Dhaliwal, former deputy to Ming Tang, NHS England’s data chief, who is responsible for the FDP contract and for Palantir’s previous contracts with the NHS.  Dr Justin Whatling, a former senior Cerner executive, has also been recruited as its UK MD.   

The claims made for the FDP sound perilously close to magical thinking: a cure to all the ills for the NHS.

An information pack provided to suppliers was effusive about the current Foundry platform supplied by Palantir, stating it is “delivering huge benefits and was critical to the success of the vaccination and PPE programmes”. 

Rolling out this type of system across the rest of the health service “has the potential to deliver £3.6bn benefits over 10 years”, the document claimed.