Non-profit legal advocacy organisation Foxglove has launched a campaign against the proposed Federated Data Platform (FDP) and Palantir, the frontrunner for the £480 million contract, following a a report that it has sent to parliament about the risks posed to the NHS.
The campaign is titled ‘Email your MP’ and is an attempt to get people to email their local MP to ask them to read the report and scrutinise the FDP contract, with the ultimate goal of getting the government to pause the procurement.
The report lays out seven key risks, with the most urgent being, according to Foxglove, the existential threat posted to the future integrity of our health data.
A recent poll from YouGov showed that if the FDP is brought in and run by a private company like Palantir, 48% of adults in England who have not yet opted out of sharing data are likely to do so, meaning 20 million young people stopping sharing their health data, except for direct care, with the NHS.
Other risks of the FDP procurement and Palantir laid out in the report are based on a flawed procurement process, a poorly defined and shifting project scope, over-centralisation, monopoly lock-in, Palantir’s poor reputation and pilot failures being ignored.
Cori Crider, director at Foxglove, said: “The apparent failure of Foundry at multiple NHS trusts badly needs Parliamentary scrutiny. The contract winner for this £480m system is due to be announced in September. The window is closing, but it isn’t yet shut. The NHS hasn’t got spare money to waste.
“There is something seriously fishy going on with this procurement. Consider this claim made by Lord Markham in a 10 July letter to Caroline Lucas MP: ‘In answer to a recent question in the House I listed Foundry pilots which had paused: none of the pauses were due to failures or concerns about the system and some were very minor delays, due to factors unconnected with the pilots’”, she told Digital Health News.
Crider added: “We regret that Lord Markham appears to have been seriously misled. One trust, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, has now gone on record that they suspended their pilot because Palantir didn’t meet their needs. Other trusts have told Foxglove privately that they also had problems. How many failures are there?
“We are on the precipice of a half-billion pound contract being awarded that at least some NHS trusts – we still don’t know how many – say didn’t work for them. That’s why we’re calling for Parliament to kick the tyres of this deal before it’s too late.”
Though Palantir could not comment specifically on the live procurement, the company was keen to respond to broader claims made about them by the likes of Foxglove.
A Palantir spokesperson said: “We’re proud that our software supported the NHS during COVID, when it was used for the vaccine rollout and to distribute PPE and ventilators.
“And we’re equally proud that it has since helped the NHS to reduce the care backlog – for example at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, which recorded a 28% waiting list reduction and a 13% increase in theatre utilisation when the software was first deployed.
“But that is what we do – provide software. We are not in the business of collecting, mining or selling data – we simply provide our customers with tools that help them organise and understand their own information. Those tools are built so that access to data, including for what purpose and for how long, is dictated entirely by the customer.”
Palantir CEO criticises Peter Thiel’s NHS comments
Foxglove’s report highlights the comments of Palantir’s co-founder and chair, Peter Thiel, back in January in an address in Oxford, where he said that British love for the NHS was “Stockholm Syndrome”, adding that “in theory, you just rip the whole thing from the ground and start over”.
Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir, has made clear that he firmly disagrees with these comments, as referenced in a piece by The Telegraph, where he said: “I am an economic progressive, and the idea that someone in need can go to the hospital and be treated independent of their economic background is something I firmly believe in.”
Noting that his father was a paediatrician, Karp told The Telegraph: “I wish we had a health care system in the US that served the poor and underserved as well as I perceive the British system does.”
On general claims that Palantir carries a ‘lock-in’ risk, the company told Digital Health News that “Palantir software has interoperability at its core, in contract to many legacy IT systems. Everywhere users interact with the platform, they do so using open source frameworks and languages”.
“The code is in a generic language that can be exported into any other platform with minor changes required. Our use of Python, standard testing frameworks, standard build and dependency management tools, the Apache Spark framework all support and underpin this interoperability and act as a safeguard against lock-in,” the company added.
On other claims that Palantir is a ‘military’ company, they respond by saying “it’s true that our software is used by defence organisations, including Ukrainian Armed Forces right now”
“But it is also used far more widely: including helping the UN World Food Programme deliver life-saving assistance, or supporting the resettlement of refugees and the documentation of war crimes by Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General,” Palantir added.
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