Palantir boss Peter Thiel (Picture: Gage Skidmore on Flickr)

NHS bosses will hand patient data to a US spy tech firm founded by a Donald Trump supporter who thinks Britain’s health service should be abolished. 

Palantir, a data crunching firm headed by billionaire Republican party donor Peter Thiel, this week won the NHS’s biggest-ever information technology contract. 

That’s despite the firm’s owner saying that the NHS “makes people sick” and that it should be gotten rid of. 

Thiel told students at the Oxford Union earlier this year that Britain’s affection for the NHS is akin to “Stockholm syndrome”. That’s when people held captive develop an emotional connection to those that imprison them. 

Nevertheless, Thiel’s firm will now join the long list of vultures sucking resources out of the system. In its bid for the £480 million five-year contract, Palantir hooked up with well-known advocates of NHS privatisation, Accenture and PwC. 

They will now run the NHS’s new Federated Data Platform (FDP). It plans to bring together information from lots of different hospitals to help with diagnosis and planning services.  

Health bosses say it could help them cut waiting times and reduce the length of hospital stays. It will, they insist, merely join up all the existing databases and make them accessible through a single system. 

And, they argue, there is no danger that patients’ private information will be misused because all data on the FDP will be anonymised and therefore untraceable. 

Few people would argue against a joined-up information system in the NHS. But the real question is whether the data stored in it will be secure—and whether it will be used solely for patients’ benefit and for planning NHS services. 

Critics of the IT system warn that some patient data handled by Palantir may still be identifiable, and that safeguards in place today may be abandoned in the future. 

Privacy campaigners fear that such moves could kick start a new wave of discrimination. This would be based on people’s current health status—and any illness or disability they might develop in the future. 

It could mean, for example, prospective employers paying for people’s private information before offering them a job or using personal health data to pre-emptively sack staff. 

Tory ministers are doing their best to help Palantir bat-off such accusations. They are already trying to ensure that people will not be able to use data protection laws to withdraw their details from the new system. 

And, in a document posted recently, NHS England posed the question, “Can patients opt out of sharing their data with the federated data platform?” 

Its answer was, “No. Patients can only opt out of sharing their data for research and planning, not for direct patient care.”  If the new system was genuinely risk-free there would be no need for such evasive manoeuvres. 

Stephen Evans, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said, “There are obvious concerns that privacy may be less protected than it is now… handing the control of such a system to a company interested in short-term profit and whose founder seems to believe in the abolition of the NHS is a risky strategy.” 

Who is behind Palantir? 

Billionaire Peter Thiel founded Palantir in 2003 with money he got from the US spy agency, the CIA. Since then, much of its income has come from providing software to the US military, security, intelligence and police agencies. 

Palantir has also been used by the British Ministry of Defence. It won its first NHS contract – without a tendering process – during the height of the Covid pandemic.  

Thiel describes himself as a “libertarian” and was one of the largest donors to Republican candidates in the 2022 midterm elections. He previously backed Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and became part of Trump’s team after the election. 

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian newspaper in 2013 revealed the existence of Xkeyscore. This is a program that allows the US National Security Agency to capture “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”. 

Palantir helped “facilitate, augment, and accelerate the use of Xkeyscore”, according to the Intercept investigative website. 

Palantir’s systems have been accused of creating “racist” feedback loops in “predictive policing” software in the US. Experts said the technology has led to individuals in already over-policed neighbourhoods becoming targets for police abuse. 

US multinationals have long wanted to get their hands on the NHS. Now, under the guise of “improving services” they have done just that. 

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