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NHS England to face legal action over ‘heavily’ redacted Palantir contract

by Eliza Parr
19 February 2024

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Legal proceedings against NHS England have been launched by law campaigners, in a bid to ‘uncover’ the contents of a controversial contract with tech company Palantir.

Last year, the US tech giant was awarded a seven-year contract worth £330m to deliver NHS England’s new ‘federated data platform’ (FDP).

The FDP will enable NHS organisations to bring together operational data that is currently stored in separate systems to boost collaboration and ‘understand patterns, solve problems and plan services for local populations’. It will include data such as the number of beds in a hospital, staff rotas, social care places, or the elective waiting list size.

The BMA and its GP committee have previously expressed concerns over the high value of the contract and particularly how confidential patient data will be used.

In December, the Government published the contract online, but with redactions throughout the documents.

The Good Law Project (GLP), a not-for-profit law organisation, claimed that 417 out of 586 pages have been ‘completely blanked out’ and has started legal proceedings against NHSE.

The organisation said the ‘heavy’ redaction is not only ‘completely unacceptable’ but also ‘unlawful’ as NHS England has not complied with its obligation, as a public body, to state the justification for the redactions.

GLP’s pre-action letter to NHS England, sent last week, said: ‘The heavy redactions mean that the public is unable properly to understand or scrutinise the arrangements under the contract, including but not limited to the issue of how personal data will be handled.’

NHS England has been invited to either re-publish the documents unredacted or with redactions that are in line with transparency policy by 26 February.

An NHS spokesperson told our sister publication Pulse: ‘NHS England has received a pre-action protocol letter and will be responding formally in due course.’

Palantir has been approached for comment.

The Good Law Project is also preparing a separate legal challenge to ‘make sure that every patient can properly protect their privacy’ by using a mechanism to opt out of the FDP.

The organisation has previously raised concerns about Palantir being awarded the FDP contract due to the ‘company’s questionable history’.

Palantir was founded in the US in 2003 and is well known for clients such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Department of Defense.

Last November, former Cabinet minister David Davis said Palantir is the ‘wrong company’ to lead the FDP, saying that even if it ‘behaved perfectly, nobody would trust it’.

NHS England has sought to emphasise that GP data will not be included on the platform at a national level but may be used in local versions if there are already data sharing agreements in place between GPs and the ICBs.

However, earlier this month, the health secretary indicated that GP data could be included on the controversial platform, saying she ‘absolutely’ wants to link up GP data with hospitals.

In September, NHS England announced £2m of funding for an engagement campaign to gather views from patients on how data in their GP record is used.

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse