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Decision to award NHS IT contract to US tech firm “deeply worrying”

The British Medical Association says it is “deeply worrying” that the NHS has awarded an IT contract to the US tech firm Palantir.

The British Medical Association says it is “deeply worrying” that the NHS has awarded an IT contract to the US tech firm Palantir.

The new software, known as the Federated Data Platform (FDP), has been brought in with the purpose of joining up existing NHS data, making it easier for staff to access key information to provide timely care for patients.

This includes the number of beds in a hospital, the size of elective waiting lists, staff rosters, the availability of medical supplies and social care places.

However, the BMA says it has “significant and sustained concerns” about how patient data will be shared and handled when it is handed over to an external company.

IT contract worth nearly half a billion

Ahead of the contract being awarded to Plantir, whose origins are in the US intelligence industry, the BMA wrote to the government and NHS England to raise its concerns.

The union said the US-based multinational company had a “commercial interest” in the decision.

FDP is an “incredibly large investment,” the BMA says, with the NHS revealing that over the contractual period of seven years, there will be up to £330m investment in the FDP and associated services.

In light of this expense, the BMA has questioned whether it is going to offer “value for money when it comes to solving the many crises we face in the NHS today.”

Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair at the BMA, says this money is “desperately needed for direct care to help patients right now, and other health and social care services which remain in such crisis.”

Concerns over data sharing

The BMA and privacy campaigners have also raised concerns about how patient data will be shared across the NHS and how a large, external company will handle this information.

There are concerns that the NHS will not require any consent from patients to use their health data, at that patients will not have a right to refuse their data being shared across different NHS institutions.

Dr Patel said the BMA’s fears over how patient information may be used “have not diminished”.

“We cannot and must not allow patient data to be exploited. We need to know just how confidential patient data will be used within this data platform and the extent of the role that Palantir, which has commercial interest in this decision, will play,” she said.

In response, NHS England said: “No company involved in the Federated Data Platform can access health and care data without the explicit permission of the NHS. All data within the platform is under the control of the NHS and will only be used for direct care and planning. It will not be used to access data for research purposes and GP data will not feed into the national version of the software platform.”

Pilot project saw reduction in long term stays

NHS National Director for Transformation Dr Vin Diwakar says better use of NHS data is “essential” to tackling waiting times and making the health service “sustainable for the future.”

Indeed, NHS England says software will deliver better joined-up care for millions of patients, help tackle waiting lists and reduce hospital discharge delays.

Before the contract was awarded, the software was piloted in North Tees and Hartlepool Trust. Since introducing the system, the trust managed to reduce long term stays (21 days or more) by 36% despite increased demand, with 7.7% more patients being admitted to the hospital.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, says health leaders will “welcome” the introduction of the platform as a tool that will “free up vital clinical time and deliver more efficient, faster and safe care for patients.”

“We hope the new platform will offer much needed capacity for many Integrated Care Systems and for those systems that have already built their own effective platforms, we welcome both the assurance that they will be able to decide if and when to opt into it, and that they will continue to be supported,” he added.

The BMA said they will now continue to work with NHS England to ensure their members’ and patients’ concerns are addressed.

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