BMA union warns new NHS contract with US tech giant is ‘deeply worrying’

Data deal risks eroding trust in doctor-patient relationship, says doctors’ union

A doctor at their desk

UK’s leading doctors’ union has reiterated concerns around what it has called a ‘deeply worrying’ decision to award a new NHS contract to the US spy tech firm Palantir.

Yesterday it was announced that Palantir won the £330 million contract to run NHS England’s new data platform, amid fears from MPs and privacy groups over the safety of patient data.

People will not have the option to opt out of sharing their health data under the Federated Data Platform, which will be run by Palantir, a US multinational knowingly for working with intelligence and military organisations.

One of the billionaire co-founders of Palantir has been reported expressing criticism towards the NHS, claiming that it ‘makes people sick’. While Isaac Levido, a consultant lobbyist for Palantir, is also Rishi Sunak’s election guru.  

Dr David Wrigley, digital lead of the BMA GP Committee, spoke on the BBC Radio 4 Today Show this morning and warned trust in the doctor-patient relationship could be eroded if patient data is put at risk.

He also cited the “astronomical” amounts of money being spent on software and hardware, at a time when the NHS is in “desperate need for cash”, and as trusts are being told there is no funding.

Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair at the BMA, said: “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.

“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.”

Since the deal was announced, the Good Law Project is now preparing to launch legal action in a case to protect NHS patient data. The organisation claims the way NHS data is currently being processed lacks transparency and that they expect the situation to ‘get worse now Palantir is in charge’.  

Whilst only eight out of 36 NHS trusts who have piloted the platform have been willing to cite any specific benefits from it, HSJ found.  

NHS England has said the new software would be protected by the highest possible standards of security.

(Image credit: Pixabay/Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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