NHS signs new four-month contract with private tech firm Palantir

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The NHS has renewed its partnership with private technology company, Palantir, for a further four months. 

Palantir is currently contracted to help support the work of the NHS Covid-19 datastore – an effort by NHS England and Improvement and NHSX to give local and national health leaders the information they need to help tackle the virus and direct resources to where they are needed most.

NHSX said it had signed a “new four month contract” with Palantir which will be published “in due course” and that it was a “direct award” using the GCloud framework.

It also confirmed the NHS is the data controller at all times. Palantir was contracted as a data processor, NHSX said, meaning the company is only permitted to use the data as directed by the NHS. The organisation also assured all data is de-identified or anonymised prior to loading onto Palantir’s platform.

The renewed contract will require Palantir to package up the work they’ve been doing so the service can go out to tender in an open procurement process.

The New Statesman has reported that the contract extension was worth £1million, though this has not been confirmed by the NHS.

It was announced back in April 2020 that Palantir would be working with the NHS, along with the likes of Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google, to develop a data platform to better inform the national response to coronavirus.

The platform, hosted on NHS Futures, would bring together multiple NHS and social care data sets into a single location. It will include data such as 111 online and call centre data from NHS Digital, as well as Covid-19 test result data from Public Health England.

NHS teams given access to predictive tech

The Palantir contract extension was mentioned in an announcement in relation to the NHS Covid-19 datastore and how NHS teams are being given access to predictive technology which can help to forecast coronavirus hospitalisations as part of it.

The Joint Biosecurity Centre is being asked to give the NHS local advance warning of any uptick in coronavirus admissions.

This is being complimented by a machine learning-powered system which will warn hospitals so they can divert staff, beds and other equipment such as oxygen or ventilators needed to tackle Covid-19 cases.

The rollout of the new technology, built and developed by artificial intelligence firm Faculty, will help local teams balance these priorities on a day to day basis, helping clinicians and scientists to model and predict hospitalisations up to three weeks in advance.

It works by learning from data of previous outbreaks such as bed use and early warning indicators, including 111 call volumes, to model what might happen in the future.

Indra Joshi, director of AI at NHSX, said: “As we continue to deal with the greatest public health emergency in a century, the NHS continues to rise to the challenge, and by using this leading technology, we will help support frontline staff in their ongoing mission to save as many lives as they can.

“This tool helps services plan the bringing back on of services for other patients safely, while flexing capacity locally for Covid-19 care.”

This technology has already helped provide the NHS at a national level a clear understanding of bed capacity and availability across the country, and has helped ensure ventilators and oxygen supply has been targeted where it is needed so no hospital has run out.

Now local hospitals have been given access to the new forecasting tool that will help them to plan how to use their available capacity for both Covid-19 patients and routine care and operations, with the benefit of advance knowledge of how the need to care for more or less patients with the virus might change in the coming one to three weeks.

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