Since 2020, NHS England’s use of Palantir software has become an area of increasing interest. While we have shared some of the highlights of our collaboration, such as the development of Purpose-based Access Controls (PBAC) , some inaccuracies persist in the discourse surrounding it. In this post, we set out the key facts.
We are proud of our work with the NHS. It saves lives and improves health outcomes.
Firstly, we’re incredibly proud of our work supporting NHS England and the wider health system. During COVID, our software, Palantir Foundry , helped ensure ventilators and PPE were delivered to the right place at the right time and supported the vaccine rollout — widely acknowledged as the most successful in Europe. The King’s Fund concluded the following about it:
“Foundry has been a key tool in the NHS’s biggest ever exercise in operational data integration … It provided, in the repeated words of a number of those interviewed, ‘a single source of truth’ for what was happening within the vaccine roll-out. From where supplies were, to who had been jabbed, and where uptake was low … ‘It meant,’ as one interviewee put it, ‘that the data that could be seen by the vaccination sites, was the same version of the truth as was being seen by Skipton House [NHS England’s headquarters] by No 10 and by the Department of Health and Social Care.’”
The same software is now helping to reduce the planned care backlog in hospitals such as Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where the waiting list has been reduced by 28%, leading Jeffrey Ahmed, consultant gynaecologist, to remark in the Financial Times:
“The solution has been a game-changer for me — it’s helping me to do my job faster and more efficiently, and has reduced my administrative burden.”
Palantir is a software company. It doesn’t collect or monetise personal data.
Helping to deliver those outcomes and improvements is a great source of pride for us. This pride, in large part, stems from the importance of the institution in question.
It is precisely because of the NHS’s importance that it’s not enough to say our software helps deliver better outcomes. Any role we play in supporting the NHS requires that we respect its values and uphold their commitment to patients, their care, and their communities.
At Palantir, we believe that with good data and the right technology, people and institutions can still solve hard problems and change the world for the better. Our work supporting the NHS is an example of these values in action. Yet we still must answer the questions people have about the safety and security with which their personal information is handled.
We welcome this scrutiny. Our answer to these questions stems from a very fundamental fact about who Palantir is and what it does.
Palantir is a software company, not a data company. This distinction is crucial. It means that we build software products that our customers use to integrate, harmonise, and understand their data. Unlike many other technology companies, we do not monetise or collect personal data. Our business model does not, and has never, involved collecting, using or selling personal data. Only those working directly with a customer are granted access to the relevant customer data, for the strictly defined purposes, conditions, and lengths of time that our collaboration necessitates, as defined by our customer.
You don’t have to take our word on this. Instead, consider what the the UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said on the matter. We partner with them to deliver life saving assistance through the World Food Programme. Earlier this month, they responded to this common charge against us that it “shows many critics’ lack of understanding… Palantir does not collect data”.
Our heritage means that our products have the highest standards when it comes to data protection, security and ethics.
We don’t control, collect or monetise personal data. But our software does process data. This raises other legitimate questions about how secure data is when processed with Palantir software.
The answer to this question relates to a further claim often made about Palantir: that we work in the realm of defence and security, in support of western democracies and their allies.
That claim is true. And we are proud of that work as well. We can’t always talk openly about it for reasons of security and sensitivity, but our software helps Governments uphold our way of life and protect citizens every day. Most recently, our software was praised by government officials in Germany for helping to foil a terrorist plot .
Our track-record working with some of the world’s most critical organisations, and on their most sensitive data, reflects our world leading security and data governance capabilities. We have pioneered innovations such as Purpose-based Access Controls which ensure that, at any point, an auditor can understand not just who has access to what data, but also why they were given access — with all the context that went into that decision.
One final point
When considering the use of Palantir software by the NHS, we urge you to keep these important facts in mind. Firstly, our software has a proven track record of helping to save lives and reduce waiting lists. Secondly, our business model centres on providing access to software — it has nothing to do with ‘data mining’. Thirdly, we have a rigorous approach to data protection, security and ethics forged by working for almost two decades with some of the world’s most important institutions.
One final point: the people involved in the development and deployment of our software in the NHS are not located in some faraway land with different values. They are in and amongst the 800+ people based in our London office: people who were born in NHS hospitals, whose close family were treated in NHS hospitals, and others who have chosen to locate here from abroad and are every bit as passionate about what the NHS stands for.
We work for Palantir because it exists to help the most important organisations solve their biggest challenges. And we know that, when it comes to the UK, there is no more important institution than the NHS.
Do you have questions about this article, or interest in learning more? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Understanding our Work with the NHS was originally published in Palantir Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.