NHS joins forces with US tech giants to create COVID-19 dashboard

Activists have raised privacy concerns about the involvement of big data firm Palantir.
By Tammy Lovell
06:34 AM

The NHS is working with US tech companies Palantir, Microsoft and Amazon to develop a data platform to inform the COVID-19 response. 

According to a blog posted on Gov.UK, NHS England and Improvement will collate data from across NHS and social care organisation sources, including the NHS 111 call centre, NHS Digital and COVID-19 test result date from Public Health England.

Data will be integrated, cleaned and harmonised in order to “provide a single source of truth about the rapidly evolving situation”, which can be presented on dashboards to give a live view of metrics. 

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However, Privacy International and the Open Rights Group issued a statement raising concerns about the involvement of Palantir, which is providing its Palantir Foundry software, to power the front-end data platform. They flagged up the firm’s past work on the tracking of migrants and provision of espionage tools.

Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, urged the NHS to be “extremely cautious and transparent in its dealings with Palantir” and explain how data would be handled and protected to prevent the abuse of information.

The government has pledged that all data in the store will remain under NHS England and NHS Improvement’s control and will be destroyed or returned in line with the law, when the emergency situation has ended. It also said that code and data will be made open source whenever possible, “while ensuring the highest standards of confidentiality.”

WHY IT MATTERS 

The data platform aims to make it easier for the NHS and partner organisations to better understand how COVID-19 is spreading, when and where the healthcare system will face strain, and which interventions can best mitigate the crisis. 

THE LARGER CONTEXT 

Meanwhile, other tech companies involved in the project include Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is helping to provide infrastructure and technologies to launch the platform and Microsoft, which is supporting NHSX and NHS England’s technical teams who have built a backend data store on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure.  

London-based AI specialist Faculty, is supporting the development and execution of the data response strategy.

The NHS is also exploring the use of tools in Google’s G Suite family to allow it to collect critical real-time information on hospital responses to COVID-19. Data collected would be aggregated operational data only such as hospital occupancy levels and A&E capacity. 

ON THE RECORD 

A statement from Privacy International said: "In the past, Palantir clients are reported to have faced extreme difficulties accessing the analysis produced by Palantir when trying to end a contract. Vendor lock-in is a real risk here which must be appropriately mitigated."

Killock of the Open Rights Group said: “Palantir have a poor reputation, of engaging in activities which threaten personal privacy and may lead to other human rights abuses.”

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