Palantir, the software company founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, won a major contract in Britain on Tuesday to help overhaul the technology system of the country’s public health service, overcoming concerns that a company known for its work military in the United States would ensure such a sensitive role involving patient data.
The National Health Service said Palantir had won a seven-year contract, worth 330 million pounds, or about $415 million, to build a new platform integrating data from across the NHS into a central repository. Called the Federated Data Platform, the system aims to make it easier to share patient information and analyze broader health trends across health services. The contract is for the NHS in England and does not cover Scotland or Wales.
Palantir was a controversial choice, as some doctors, civil society groups and members of Parliament had raised concerns about putting the company in charge of building what could become one of the largest repositories of health data in the world. Besides privacy concerns and the company’s ties to Mr. Thiel, a libertarian investor who was a top donor to President Donald J. Trump in 2016, many health officials and policymakers have been upset by Palantir’s aggressive lobbying tactics to win the contract. Others have raised questions about the effectiveness of the technology.
Palantir won the contract in partnership with Accenture, the business consulting firm; PWC; NECS; and Carnall Farrar.
NHS England said in a statement that the new platform would “bring together existing NHS data, making it easier for staff to access key information to deliver better and faster patient care”.
Alex Karp, Palantir’s chief executive, said in a statement that the system would “help reduce waitlists, improve patient care and reduce health inequities.”
Palantir was one of the favorites to win the contract after gaining the trust of many senior government officials during the pandemic. The company has played a key role in compiling data on the spread of Covid-19 and allocating resources, as well as rolling out the country’s vaccination programme. Palantir has turned that work into more healthcare contracts, including a program to reduce the patient backlog of surgeries and other care.
Although the NHS is a government-run system, it is organized between different regional hospitals and trusts, creating silos of information that managers now want to bring together.
The cost of building the data platform was initially announced at £480 million. On Tuesday, the NHS said additional funds had been set aside to create privacy features and so other companies could bid to create new products on the platform in the future.
Dr David Nicholl, a spokesman for the Doctors’ Association UK, said it was unclear whether Palantir’s technology would deliver the promised benefits. A pilot program produced mixed results.
“This is a staggering amount of money when the deal has not been adequately scrutinized, and it is hard to believe that this is the direction to go when other options could have and should have been considered,” Dr Nicholl said in a statement.
Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a legal group that opposed Palantir’s involvement in the program, said that “if this system is not useful to front-line doctors, it risks becoming a failure of medicine.” ‘half a billion euros’.
Palantir creates customizable software that allows organizations to make sense of massive amounts of data. The tools digest information from different sources and then bring it together into visual displays that are easier to interpret.
The company’s operations focus largely on contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and others, but it has diversified into the health care sector in search of new areas of growth.
Responding to privacy concerns, the NHS said the contract “expressly prohibits the use of patient data for commercial purposes”.