Campaigners protest against Palantir at NHS Confed Expo

  • 13 June 2024
Campaigners protest against Palantir at NHS Confed Expo

Demonstrators gathered outside the NHS Confed Expo and disrupted sessions to protest against the conference’s sponsorship by US data analytics giant Palantir.

The US firm provoked widespread controversy when it was awarded a £330 million contract in November 2023 to operate the Federated Data Platform (FDP) for NHS England, with concerns raised about the procurement process and the company’s ethics.

Palantir was scheduled to run two sessions at the NHS Confed Expo on 12-13 June 2024 at Manchester Central.

A session run by Palantir on ‘Improving health outcomes through digital technology’ on 13 June, was stopped after several protesters interrupted an address by Tom McArdle, UK health lead at Palantir, to raise their objections.

Security guards removed six protesters from the auditorium and tried to remove a woman wearing a hijab, who refused to leave, insisting that she was not part of the protest and was being targeted for her appearance.

A spokesperson for the NHS Confederation, which organised the conference, said: “We can confirm that a session at conference was disrupted this morning.

“We understand that an individual was believed to be part of the group and was asked to leave.

“We recognise she is upset and are looking into the matter.”

The previous day, around 20 healthcare workers protested outside the conference to express their objection to Palantir’s strategic partnership with the Israeli Defence Ministry to supply technology to support the country’s war against Palestine, reported in Bloomberg UK in January 2024.

The campaigners, from the group Health Workers for a Free Palestine, are calling for NHSE to cancel the FDP contract with Palantir, put an end to privatisation and bring all public service data management in-house.

A paediatrician involved in the protest, who wished to remain anonymous, told Digital Health News: “This year, the conference of NHS management, trusts and providers is sponsored by the military AI company Palantir.

“We are protesting because Palantir is currently providing its advanced technology to support the Israeli occupation forces to commit genocide in Palestine.

“Despite warnings from data privacy experts NHS England has handed them our health data and public money, disregarding the company’s questionable track record in human rights violations and scandals”.

Responding to the protest, a spokesperson for NHSE told Digital Health News: “As we’ve said previously, NHS England ran an independent procurement exercise, done by the NHS, for the NHS, to procure an NHS FDP.

“The choice of preferred supplier was not made by a single person, it was the result of assessment by many different individuals”.

They added: “The NHS FDP is not a data collection; it is software that will help to connect disparate sets of data and allow them to be used more effectively for care”.

Transparency and legal advocates the Good Law Project, openDemocracy and Foxglove have repeatedly cited Palantir’s controversial reputation, due to its association with US immigration services, spy agencies and military.

In February 2024, the Good Law Project announced that it had taken legal action over NHSE’s heavily redacted contract with Palantir.

A spokesperson for Palantir said: “We are proud of our work with the NHS. Our software has a proven track record supporting the NHS’s world leading vaccine rollout and helping to speed up distribution of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Palantir’s dedicated NHS team is now working at pace to help reduce waiting times, cut the amount of time nurses and doctors need to spend on administrative tasks, and speed up diagnosis times for serious illnesses such as cancer – all while rigorously protecting data privacy”.

Kettering General Hospital and Northampton General Hospital announced in May 2024 that they were the first of 44 pilot sites to transition to a local instance of the FDP.

This story was amended at 16.01 on 13 June 2024 to add a comment from Palantir.

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