Second delay for NHS data platform procurement contract

Second delay for NHS data platform procurement contract

The procurement process for the new NHS Federated Data Platform (FDP) has faced yet another setback, as a second major deadline has been missed.

NHS England had begun early supplier engagement processes in April 2022, and had said that formal competition for the contract would start in the summer. The June deadline came and went, and officials then announced a new date of 6th September to publish the contract notice.

It appears that the deadline has been missed again. At the time, political upheaval was blamed for the delay as the UK appointed new prime minister Liz Truss. According to the Register, the contract notice was awaiting signoff by health minister of the time Therese Coffey.

There has also been speculation on how fair and open the competition for the contract will be. The company widely tipped to win the £360 million contract is US-based data analytics company Palantir Technologies.

Palantir already runs the NHS’ Covid data platforms, and was one of the suppliers contracted to build an NHS data store in response to the pandemic. This was supposed to have been closed after the worst of the global health crisis passed, but there are concerns that the role of the data store – and Palantir – has only grown since it was created.

The Register also revealed that Palantir has recruited key figures within the health service’s data science and AI teams. This includes Indra Joshi and Harjeet Dhaliwal, as well as an appointment by proxy of Matthew Swindells – former national director for operations and information at NHS England and Improvement (NHSE&I).

Swindells holds a key consultancy role with Global Counsel, which has Palantir as a client. Questions have now arisen over whether lobbying rules have been broken, and whether Palantir has undue influence within NHS leadership due to its appointments. 

What is the FDP?

The Federated Data Platform (FDP) is designed to be “an ecosystem of technologies and services” for the NHS. It will be built around five key use cases:

  • Population health and personal insight
  • Care coordination
  • Vaccines and immunisation
  • Elective recovery
  • The supply chain.

Data federation is a software process, bringing together multiple databases so that they effectively function as one. Data is pulled from a number of sources and converted into a common model. This creates a single virtual database for front-end applications.

It is hoped that an FDP for the NHS can solve some of the problems associated with siloed health data, as well as facilitating secure sharing of necessary sensitive health data. 

A government report ‘Better, broader, safer: using health data for research and analysis’ exploring the need to improve the NHS’ use of health data, stated:

“Data can drive research. It can be used to discover which treatments work best, in which patients, and which have side effects. It can be used to help monitor and improve the quality, safety and efficiency of health services. It can be used to drive innovation across the life sciences sector.”

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