In the first major intervention from clinicians in the mammoth deal to make a unified patient database, Doctors Association UK called on the government to ensure “public trust and value for money” in the system
Frontline doctors have called on Ministers to rethink plans to hand a £480 million NHS IT contract to a controversial data firm.
In the first major intervention by clinicians in the process, the Doctors Association UK (DAUK) urged the government not to hand the deal to US firm Palantir to ensure public trust and value for money.
The firm, co-founded by Donald Trump donor Peter Thiel, is in “pole position” to bag the contract to create a central database for all NHS patient information.
But in a letter published today, DAUK warned the deal “goes against the key NHS values of ensuring that ‘we’re working together for patients’.”
The letter can be read in full here
NHS patients would be automatically opted in to the database unless they choose to withdraw their data from the platform.
And while the Department for Health and Social Care insist Palantir will only build the software, and won’t be able to keep any of the data, the group say the deal will undermine public trust in the safety of their personal information.
Dr David Nicholl, a spokesperson for the Doctors’ Association UK, said: “This deal represents a poor deal for taxpayers and for patients.
“It goes against the key NHS values of ensuring that ‘we’re working together for patients’.
“The plans for an enforced opt-in to the [database] mean that basic issues of informed consent are being ignored.
“It is time to put a pause on all of this and engage in some proper scrutiny to get the best deal for all patients.”
Some 149 doctors have signed the letter , including Sir Richard Thompson, former chair of the Royal College of Physicians and Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP and member of the BMA board.
The intervention comes after a trial of Palantir’s software in NHS hospitals saw mixed success.
Of the 36 trusts taking part in the pilot scheme in March, 11 were paused or suspended – with only one starting up again.
Martha Dark, Director of campaign group Foxglove, said: “We’re now seeing a groundswell of doctors come out against the government’s half-billion pound NHS IT deal with Palantir. If doctors and hospitals don’t use this system, and patients don’t trust it, the [system] will fail, simple as that.
“When government did a whip-round for supportive statements from hospitals who had trialled Palantir’s kit, most refused to support it. The NHS hasn’t got half a billion pounds to waste on kit that doctors and hospitals don’t want.
“We all badly want to see the NHS have the investment it needs – in staff, and in tech that doctors and patients can trust.
“Government should read the writing on the wall, pause this deal, and go back to the drawing board for real solutions.”
The letter, addressed to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, reads: “Please pause these plans and take steps to ensure public trust, value for money, a trustworthy partner and patient consent.
“We all need an NHS data platform that treasures patient trust, ensures patients’ data remain a public asset and that benefits the health service for decades to come.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We saw during the pandemic how joined-up data can be used to improve the way the NHS provides care.
“That’s why the NHS is currently conducting a procurement process for a supplier of the Federated Data Platform (FDP), which will be used to connect existing data to help local health teams better prioritise waiting lists, manage theatre capacity and identify their staffing needs. This process has not yet concluded.
“Patients’ data has and always will remain under the full control and protection of the NHS, and it will not be accessed by the company that makes the software.”