(Bloomberg) -- Palantir Technologies Inc., the data analysis company co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, has won a contract to overhaul the National Health Service’s patient data system in the UK.
Palantir bid together with Accenture Plc. for the deal, valued at as much as £480 million ($602 million), said Victoria Atkins, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in a statement on Tuesday.
The deal will see Palantir and Accenture develop a federated data platform for NHS England that will help hospitals across the country analyze medical data, detect patterns and allocate resources. The five-year contract includes the option to be extended by two years.
The platform will support “key priorities of the NHS, including recovery of elective care and the improvement of discharge processes to get medically fit patients treated and home quicker,” Atkins said.
The decision is both predictable and controversial. Palantir has been working with the health service since the Covid-19 pandemic, providing its software to manage the country’s vaccine rollout for a £1 fee in a move that positioned it to win more lucrative contracts. Its relationship with the NHS has drawn fire from patient advocacy and civil society groups concerned about the privacy of medical data.
Read More: Palantir Closing In on Controversial UK Health Data Contract
“This new tool provides a safe and secure environment to bring together data, which enables us to develop and deliver more responsive services for patients,” said Vin Diwakar, NHS National Director for Transformation in a statement.
The platform will also use a privacy-enhancing tool created by Iqvia Holdings Inc. to safeguard patient data, the NHS said.
Professional services firm PwC, care system support organization NECS and healthcare consultancy Carnall Farrar will also help Palantir implement the data platform, according to the statement.
Palantir shares fell about 3% in New York after the deal was announced.
The software will “never hold or have access to NHS data for any purpose other than as directed by” the agency, according to an Aug. 25 blog post by NHS England’s Chief Data Officer Ming Tang.
The announcement was originally expected in September, but was delayed for several weeks as the deal required sign-off from the Treasury and government ministers. Rival bidders included Oracle Cerner and IBM with British startup Quantexa.
Patients concerned about having a controversial vendor at the heart of the NHS are not able to opt out of sharing their data, the NHS said in an FAQ about the system earlier this month. The typical NHS opt-out procedure doesn’t apply because the platform uses data for direct patient care, such as booking surgeries, or data that has been anonymized.
“Every prior effort to centralize NHS data has failed because people didn’t trust officials to protect their health records from other departments or private companies,” said Cori Crider, the director of legal nonprofit Foxglove and vocal critic of the deal.
Crider added that it is a mistake not to allow patients to opt out as it puts the government “on a crash course” with people’s expectations that they should decide what happens with their health data.
Palantir’s market capitalization is about $46 billion, and has soared this year as the company has introduced new artificial intelligence tools. Based in Denver, Palantir sells technology and analytics services to governments for both civic and military applications, and works only with the US and its allies, including Europe.
Earlier this year, Palantir’s Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp criticized European leaders for a perceived suspicion of technology, urging the bloc to “get serious” about tech development.
Controversies around Palantir’s work with the NHS have mainly concerned transparency about what data the NHS is handing over, how it’s being used and whether patients can opt out.
Thiel, who is still Palantir’s chairman, has described the UK’s affection for the NHS as “Stockholm syndrome,” and recommended that the country could “rip the whole thing from the ground and start over,” in a speech at the Oxford Union in January. Palantir said at the time that Thiel was speaking in a private capacity and that his views didn’t reflect the views of the company.
(Updates with comments from NHS, Palantir and context)
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