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Revealed: Palantir secures £1m contract extension for NHS data store work

Peter Thiel’s controversial data analytics firm Palantir has secured a £1 million contract extension for its work on NHS England’s Covid-19 data store, NS Tech can reveal.

Palantir’s initial contract to provide engineering services for the data store, which assesses and predicts demand on the health service, was worth £1 and came to an end on 11 June. But NHS England confirmed on Wednesday (15 July) that the contract, which did not go to competitive tender, has been extended for four months.

As part of the new deal, Palantir has been asked to “package up the work they’ve been doing so the service can go out to tender in an open procurement process”, NHS England said. The value of the extension was not disclosed in the announcement, but an NHS England spokesperson later confirmed to NS Tech that the deal is worth £1 million.

Cori Crider, co-founder of tech justice organisation Foxglove, told NS Tech: “This is exactly why Foxglove fought to have the first secret contract between Palantir and the NHS published.” Crider said the company had a history of increasing prices and described its “support for the military, police, and US border forces” as “troubling”.

She added: “There’s no democratic mandate for letting massive tech companies like this bed down for the long haul with our NHS. The public deserve far more transparency and debate before these data deals are made.”

As NS Tech revealed in April, around 45 Palantir engineers worked on bringing together various data sources, including pseudonymised, anonymised and aggregated patient data, to support the project.

Meanwhile, Faculty – an AI company that worked for Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign – provides the data modelling services used by ministers and NHS officials to manage demand on the health service at both a local and national level. The Guardian reported on Sunday that a company owned by Cummings had paid Faculty £260,000 over the course of two years. The reason for the payments is unknown.

Palantir was paid just £1 for its initial work on the data store, prompting speculation at the time that it may expect to win a much larger deal in the future. A GlobalData analyst had told NS Tech that when the project went to competitive tender, it could be worth several million pounds; Palantir has recently inked a coronavirus-related deal with the US Department of Health and Human Services for $17.3m.

NHS England only published the initial contracts covering the terms of its agreements with the companies supporting the project after Foxglove and openDemocracy threatened to take it to court. Amazon and Microsoft also provide cloud computing services underpinning the project. While Google had initially been enlisted to provide support too, it has since been dropped, according to the Telegraph.

In the announcement on Wednesday, NHS England said that Palantir’s contract extension had been awarded using the government’s GCloud framework and that any intellectual property generated during the project would be retained by the health service. The government has previously said that all of the data will be returned to the NHS once the project has been wound down at the end of the crisis.

Read next: How one of America’s most controversial billionaires cracked the NHS

While the data store was initially used at a national level to provide NHS officials and ministers with data on bed capacity, ventilator usage and oxygen supply in different parts of the country, it is now also being used by local NHS managers to predict the potential impact of a surge in coronavirus cases on their organisation’s ability to provide routine care.

Indra Joshi, director of AI at NHSX, said in a statement: “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 care.”

Palantir was founded by Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, in 2003. It has since won a number of controversial contracts in the US covering predictive policing, battlefield software and migrant surveillance.

The company has also secured more than £39m of deals with the UK government, but before the coronavirus crisis, it had not won any work with the NHS.

Earlier this month, the firm, which is headquartered in Silicon Valley, filed to go public, reportedly for around $20bn.