A report issued last month has slated the design of the government’s proposed NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP) and its procurement process.
The report, jointly authored by Doctors’ Association UK and legal advocacy group Foxglove, which campaigns for a more equitable distribution of the benefits of technology, criticised the way in which the government is carrying out the bidding process to operate the FDP.
The government is set to award the main contract to operate the platform, which has been valued at up to £480 million, later this year.
The report identified seven problems with the tender: a flawed procurement process; a “poorly defined and shifting project scope”; secrecy and failure to design for patient consent; over-centralisation; monopoly lock-in; the poor reputation of frontrunner bidder Palantir; and pilot failures being ignored.
“Whilst tech will never replace the need for properly paid staff and sustainable budgets, improved use of data and technology could undoubtedly help the NHS meet future needs, improve patient care and increase efficiency,” the authors concluded in the report’s executive summary.
Yet, it observed that “past efforts to harness the power of NHS data have repeatedly failed, principally because public concerns about private sector involvement and privacy have not been addressed.”
While 3,000 tech roles in the NHS lie vacant, the report said, US data analytics giant Palantir is the leading contender to win the FDP operating contact despite having “no track record in healthcare.”
It accused Palantir of “pandemic opportunism”, which allowed it to unfairly obtain incumbent advantage when procurement rules were suspended.
It noted the US tech company’s poor reputation, due to its association with US security operations and an “NHS-bashing owner”; if Palantir is successful in the FDP procurement, the report said, it risks further eroding trust amongst the public and NHS staff and increasing NHS dependence on the company and obstruction on other platforms.
More broadly, the report said a flawed understanding of the aims of the project risks wasting public money, while excessive secrecy risks undermining public trust in the FDP.
The report cited polling from YouGov, which found that 48% of adults who have not opted out of allowing their data to be included, are likely to do so if the Federated Data Platform is introduced and run by a private company.
Last month, the government awarded Palantir a £25 million contract to “transition” its existing projects with the health service to the new FDP supplier.