NHS Federated Data Platform news round up – what you need to know

It was a busy Christmas period for news on the NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP). In case you didn’t have time to keep track of it all, we’ve gathered the big stories below. Let’s get into it.

Influencer Campaign

About a week after nabbing the contract for the FDP, US spy tech firm Palantir began an influencer campaign to try and push back against criticism that they aren’t a fit partner for the NHS.

But Palantir’s partner in the influencer campaign, Topham Guerrin, didn’t appear to have been terribly diligent in their research, as they ended up getting in touch with the Doctors’ Association UK about trying to buff up Palantir’s image. That was always going to be a tough sell, given the DAUK are one of the partners working with us on legal action challenging the legal basis for the FDP to be operated, by Palantir or anyone else.

The DAUK also wrote an open letter to the NHS specifically asking them to think again about handing the £330m deal to Palantir – the first major intervention by medics on the deal.

The worst part of this for Palantir is that they don’t appear to have read their NHS contract closely –  it clearly says (even in the heavily redacted version published online) that Palantir cannot make press or marketing announcements about the FDP deal that mention the NHS without their consent. 

An NHS spokesperson told Bloomberg that Palantir failed to get that consent and the health service is now investigating a potential breach of contact. 

So far, so embarrassing for Palantir. But there’s a more serious side to this.

Both the NHS and Palantir themselves have rubbished any suggestion that Palantir cannot be trusted with our personal health data. After all, they say, the contract has strict limitations on how data can flow into the FDP and be used within it. 

But now, Palantir appears to have breached its contract within about a week of getting it. That doesn’t inspire much confidence that Palantir plans to stick to the rest of its contract’s terms. Especially when the version published to the public (three days before Christmas – nice) has the section describing “protection of personal data” almost entirely blacked out. One to watch.

Benefits? What benefits?

If you’ve been following our work on the FDP, you’ll know we’ve been trying for a long time to get to the bottom of the contradictions and missing data about the NHS’s infamous FDP pilots. There have been multiple different figures given for the number of pilots being run around the country during the last year as well as inconsistencies about the number of pilots which have been suspended or paused, and the number that said the pilots had actually worked.

The Health Service Journal has done excellent work on this – not least just before Christmas when they revealed that five NHS trusts had contradicted the government by saying that they had not, in fact, seen benefits from their FDP pilots. That means that out of the 42 trusts where the government now says pilots have been run, only nine have reported any benefits at all. So just over 20%.

As we’ve said before, that is an extremely low success rate for a project worth £330 mill, when the NHS needs every pound spent on it to be spent well.  

Expert Opinion

Another expert voice has warned about the risks posed by the FDP. Senior safety investigator for the UK’s Health Services Safety Investigations Body Helen Jones warned that the FDP must prioritise interoperability to succeed, along with rigorous user testing.

As we’ve seen above, the FDP’s record on user testing via its pilots is, at best, uneven. The public need to know the FDP works in real-world hospital environments if they are going to be confident it represents value for money. 

As for interoperability – in layman’s terms, it’s making sure the FDP functions well with both existing NHS systems and ones created in future either internally or by other private partners – that has been one of our key concerns about Palantir getting the FDP contract from day one. 

Remember, Palantir has always been open about the fact that it is seeking a monopoly position. As Palantir CEO Alex Karp told shareholders in August 2022: “We are working towards a future where all large institutions in the United States and its allies abroad are running significant segments of their operations, if not their operations as a whole, on Palantir. Most other companies are targeting small segments of the market. We see and intend to capture the whole.” 

Karp’s description of Palantir’s approach is borne out by testimony from NHS data scientists and managers. At the FDP pilot in Milton Keynes, as reported by the New York Times

“Palantir’s software was not compatible with the hospital’s patient management system, meaning workers had to manually enter some data, according to two hospital officials who would only share the information on condition of anonymity. Palantir told officials it would solve the issue, but the hospital suspended the project after weeks passed without a fix, the officials said.”

When it comes to Palantir, the NHS and poor interoperability, as they say: “it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.” That’s been called out now by a leading expert in electronic patient records.

Business case

All this comes as the NHS has yet to publish the business case for why it chose Palantir as the FDP contractor, which should include details on the controversy over the FDP pilots and why the health service is confident the data platform will provide value for money, despite the lack of trusts reporting benefits. 

As noted again by the HSJ, the government has watered down a previous pledge to publish the full business case, made by health minister Lord Markham in August. Now, the government says only a redacted version of the business case will be published. If the FDP contract is anything to go by, we can expect hundreds of pages of further redactions. 

That’s not good enough. We write this just days after the longest junior doctors’ strike in the history of the NHS. One thing everyone can agree on is that every penny spent on the health service right now must be done so soundly. When such serious questions exist over the effectiveness of Palantir’s kit to do the job it needs to do for doctors, for nurses and for patients, there is not enough evidence that’s the case. That’s why there needs to be full transparency. 

We’ll have more on this soon. For all the updates on the NHS, FDP and Palantir as they happen, hit the button below: