Palantir and The NHS in legal tussle over data deal

The NHS is facing a legal challenge over its data deal Palantir, PageOne has gathered.

Palantir, which has become famous for its close ties to security services and immigration agencies in the United States, secured its first ever deal to handle NHS data in March last year.

The court case against the health service, which was announced today, could force it to reconsider the contract, which was extended in December 2020 and is now worth £23.5m.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge over procurement during the pandemic, which has become a highly contentious topic in recent months, with critics accusing the government of favouring its own contacts.

It comes as a batch of internal government emails uncovered by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism that high-level meetings took place between Palantir and the most senior officials in government and the NHS before the pandemic, raising questions about the role of personal relationships in the award of the contract.

The lawsuit claims that NHS England failed to consider the impact of the renewed deal on patients and the public by performing a fresh Data Protection Impact Assessment – a claim the health service denies.

Although Palantir does not store any health data itself, Foxglove claims that by using its data analytics software for tasks such as the vaccine rollout, the NHS is putting public trust at risk.

NHS insiders say that Palantir’s tool has proved immensely useful at marshalling the health service’s disparate streams of data, but Ms Crider said that the NHS was “naive” to think its relationship with the much-criticised firm would not damage fragile trust among minority ethnic communities.

The lawsuit comes as a trove of internal UK government documents released to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism under the Freedom of Information Act shows how Palantir wooed senior NHS and government figures long before it was awarded a contract with the health service.

Palantir and NHS England declined to comment on the contents of the documents, but spokespeople for both organisations insisted that the meetings had nothing to do with the award of any contracts.

The documents reveal the extensive contacts between Palantir and the UK government.

A DIT spokesperson denied there was anything unusual about these exchanges, saying: “DIT officials engage with a wide range of businesses as part of their responsibility to support UK trade and investment.”

But critics point out that encouraging investment from Palantir is different, because its primary client is often the government itself.

Since the NHS’s contract with Palantir was first announced, its terms have been extended to cover a far greater range of subjects, including Brexit, flu vaccinations and the ability to “drill down and view changes to workforce data over time”.

Defenders of Palantir said that showed how effective the software had been, but data policy experts warned that the government needed to be more transparent about the changes if it was going to secure public trust.

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