The long-awaited federated data platform contract award by NHS England was officially announced yesterday, with US data analytics giant Palantir, with support from Accenture, PwC, NECS and Carnall Farrar, winning the £330 million procurement, sparking mixed reactions. 

NHS Confederation CEO Matthew Taylor describes the FDP 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,” but warned that much work was needed to win public support. 

Digital Health Networks CIO Advisory Panel chair Paul Jones said he was “not surprised at the decision, but disappointed that NHSE have ploughed ahead with this initiative given the lack of support across trust digital teams and the constrained financial position being imposed on other NHS digital budgets”.

Nick Wilson, CEO at System C, noted the “huge amount of experience” both inside the NHS and among technology companies with an extended history of delivering digital transformation in the UK over the past two decades.

“While the FDP presents a significant opportunity to integrate disparate patient data across the NHS, it is disappointing that the biggest single tech contract awarded by the NHS hasn’t been awarded to a British consortium,” he added. “It’s also alarming that despite the vast sums being committed, the FDP won’t include GP data.  Interoperability of health and social care is difficult, and I hope that Palantir and Accenture learn from the challenges of the past, but also don’t look to undo or duplicate the progress already achieved with frontline digitisation, shared cared records, and secure data environments.”

Those that had campaigned against Palantir’s involvement in FDP were disappointed and promised to keep up scrutiny of how FDP works in practice. 

The Good Law Project, a not-for-profit campaign organisation, have confirmed that they are “preparing legal challenges to make sure the NHS handles our sensitive data properly, with a clear mechanism so that we can all take meaningful steps to keep private health information private”. 

Palantir were the perceived frontrunners throughout the process, so “few people who’ve followed Palantir’s four-year blag into the heart of our NHS data will be surprised by yesterday’s award,” Cori Crider, director of legal advocacy organisation Foxglove, said.  

Crider, who has been a notable critic Palantir and the FDP, added: “There’s so much we still don’t know about the FDP. Will it work? Nearly a third of hospital trials of Palantir’s kit this year seem to have failed, and we still don’t know why. If this system isn’t useful to frontline doctors, it risks becoming a half-billion-pound flop.” 

Dr David Nicholl, spokesperson for Doctors’ Association UK said there has been a lack of scrutiny around the deal and unconvincing results from the NHS trials of Palantir’s technology. 

“It’s a staggering sum of money when there’s been insufficient scrutiny of the deal and it beggars belief that this is the direction of travel, when other options could and should have been looked at, given the less than stellar pilot study of the federated data platform,” he said. 

David Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, does not view Palantir as fit for protecting people and their data due to their “background in the murky world of espionage and a history of punishing vulnerable people, not protecting them”. 

NHSE marshalled some supporters in its announcement, including NHS Confederation, National Voices and the joint Academy of the Royal Medical Colleges, though notably none of the Royal Medical Colleges or big medical charities. 

National Voices chief executive Jacob Lant also believes the FDP is “an important tool” in achieving digital revolution across the NHS, while Dr Jeanette Dickson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, believes the clinically led pilots were in fact of worth and suggested “we have much to gain by fully embracing the platform’s potential to help link data better for elective recovery and care coordination”. 

In a blog on the National Voice site yesterday, it was confirmed that NHS England is developing an engagement portal for the public to read and submit questions about the FDP, which a member of staff at NHSE will respond to. 

Lant, alongside Dr Nicola Byrne, national data guardian and Dr Nicola Perrin of the Association of Medical Research Charities have agreed to become members of NHS England’s independent Check and Challenge Group for the FDP 

NHSE have guaranteed that data will not be shared under the FDP until new ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies’ (PET) are developed and in place, which is expected in April 2024. 

These technologies are being developed by a different supplier, with more information on PET expected to be published later this year.