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Alarm bells ring as US spy tech firm lands £330m NHS contract

CAMPAIGNERS have raised alarm bells over patient privacy after a US spy tech firm was handed a £330 million contract to create a huge data platform for the NHS.

Palantir, a secretive Silicon Valley company first funded by the CIA, secured a five-year contract with NHS England on Tuesday.

The company’s motives have come under scrutiny, particularly after its billionaire founder Peter Thiel claimed that the NHS “makes people sick” and should be privatised. 

The deal involves Palantir operating a “federated data platform” that will allow NHS trusts and integrated care systems to share real-time data, including information on free hospital beds, staff rosters and the availability of medical supplies, in a bid to cut waiting times and make the service more efficient.

However, campaigners have raised concerns over privacy, as patients will not be able to opt-out of sharing their personal medical records, which the NHS says will be “anonymised.”

Good Law Project legal manager Ian Browne described the contract as “utterly alarming” and said that he was now preparing legal challenges to “make sure our private health information stays private.”

Privacy International legal officer Dr Tom West warned that even if data was pseudanonymised, Palantir “may stand to benefit by being able to train their algorithms on the public’s intimate health data.”

He said: “This Palantir contact has been secretive and opportunistic throughout.

“It’s likely that Palantir will continue to avoid transparency over how their algorithms work on the basis of commercial confidentiality.”

Dr Martin Blanchard of Keep Our NHS Public said the decision to “radically alter the NHS” and “make it dependent on data management by private corporations” should have been fully explained and debated beforehand.

Amnesty International described Palantir as a “troubling choice,” highlighting its involvement in “serious human rights abuses” after the firm’s technology helped the US immigration enforcement agency track and deport asylum-seekers. 

British Medical Association representative body chairwoman Dr Latifa Patel said: “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.”

Referring to the contract’s “eye-watering” cost, she added that money was “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.”

“This is NHS privatisation run amok”, said We Own It lead campaigner Johnbosoco Nwogbo.

“It not only risks hurting the public whose data could be abused but it will also hurt public trust in their healthcare: it could make people think twice before giving their information to the NHS.”

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