NHS patients are worried their confidential medical details could be ‘exploited’ after the health service has finalised a £330 million data management deal with the US tech company Palantir.

Owned by the controversial billionaire Peter Thiel, Palantir will now provide a ‘federated data platform’ (FDP) to join IT systems across health and social care trusts in England.

Health chiefs are hoping that the seven-year year contract will speed up diagnoses, improve care and reduce waiting times by connecting patient records between hospitals.

However, concerns are growing due to Palantir’s strong relationships with military organisations and intelligence agencies around the world, including the US Army and Ukrainian armed forces.

If patient data is mishandled, the deal could ‘undermine public trust’, senior politicians, NHS medics and data experts have said.

The deal could also mean that patients might not have the option to opt out of their data being shared through the FDP.

Palantir is a specialist data analysis platform and was developed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in a bid to use technology in pursuit of the war on terror.

The platform owner Mr Theil has criticised the NHS in the past and has compared the UK’s affection for the health service to ‘Stockholm syndrome’. He believes that some parts of the NHS should even be prioritised.

NHS England said: “Consultancy firms Accenture, PwC and Carnall Farrar and NHS not-for-profit NECS will all support Palantir.

“No company involved in the Federated Data Platform can access health and care data without the explicit permission of the NHS.”

They added: “All data within the platform is under the control of the NHS and will only be used for direct care and planning.”

Senior politicians are planning to question the health secretary on the finer details of the ‘eye-watering’ contract.

Dr Latifa Patel representative body chair at the British Medical Association (BMA) said: “Having made our concerns plain for several months on this and having written to the Secretary of State of Health and Social Care, and urged for a rethink, our fears about how patient information may be used and handled going forward have not diminished.

“This contract is valued at an eye-watering amount — money which is desperately needed for direct care to help patients right now, and other health and social care services which remain in such crisis, not to mention the ongoing workforce shortages.”

Dr Patel added: “Going forward, 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.”

Steve Brine, health and social care committee chair, said: “Substantial concerns currently exist among the public about their information and the NHS regarding trust, transparency and data security.

“Public concerns can be allayed by more transparency and better communication about what this platform will do and how their data will be used.”

He added: “We will be pressing the new Secretary of State about the NHS data platform at a future date.

“The Department has previously acknowledged to us that it needed to do better to communicate the benefits of digital healthcare and to allay worries about the security of data gathered by the NHS.”

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International’s business and human rights director, said: “Palantir is a very troubling choice of service provider for the NHS, given the human rights controversies surrounding the company.

“Any NHS public procurement tenderers whose activities have been linked to serious human rights abuses, as is the case with Palantir, should be excluded on grounds of ‘grave professional misconduct’, as permitted under procurement law.”

Professor Elena Simperl, computer scientist at King’s College London, said: “That data is extremely valuable, to improve how the NHS operates, to drive advances in scientific research, and to boost AI products and services.

“There is a huge responsibility in stewarding and governing this data asset, not only for these reasons, but only because every failure to maintain and restore public trust could inevitably lead to more people opting out of secondary uses of the data, hence diminishing the benefits the data could yield.”

Professor Stephen Evans, Emeritus Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “This proposal is not replacing all the different systems with a single system, but allowing for data from different systems to be accessible using a single system.

“It seems likely that this will be gradually rolled out across the NHS and will not happen immediately.”

He added: “There are obvious concerns that privacy may be less protected than it is now, but those concerns may not be well based. However, handing the control of such a system to a company interested in short-term profit and whose founder seems to believe in the abolition of the NHS is a risky strategy.

“It has the potential to absorb large amounts of NHS money, especially in the costs of “tweaks” to the system after it has started. Overall, it may or may not lead to improvements in the efficiency of patient care.”

Professor Carissa Véliz, an associate professor at the Institute for Ethics in AI at the University of Oxford, said: “The devil will be in the detail, but if the NHS gives Palantir —an espionage American tech firm — any access to sensitive data, which seems likely, it will undermine public trust yet a little bit further.

‘Public health systems do not work when there is no public trust left, and the NHS is running out of it.”

Professor Meg Davis, professor of digital health and rights at the University of Warwick, added: “Palantir has a very concerning history in the US of expansive surveillance and targeting, in ways that are intrusive and could undermine the rights of vulnerable groups.

“Any agreement with Palantir should be made public in the interests of transparency, with tough privacy protections.”

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