Skip to main content
Case update 19 March 2024

NHS signed Palantir contract – then carried on negotiating

How can a public body sign a contract that isn’t even finished? It’s time for NHS England to come clean over its contract with data giant Palantir.

Good Law Project has learned that NHS England continued to conduct negotiations with Palantir after awarding it a highly controversial contract to manage patient data in November 2023.

The data held by the NHS – your private healthcare data and that of 65 million other UK residents – is among the most valuable datasets in the world. It could deliver better and cheaper healthcare, allowing the NHS to spend money in areas such as scientific research for better treatments. But only if it is managed well and for the benefit of the public.

Palantir was – without open competition – given a series of valuable preliminary contracts to adapt a platform for use in the NHS and then to run that platform. And, with that foothold, it secured the contract in November 2023.

Help us defend your private health dataSupport our action

However, Good Law Project has learned that Palantir was given the contract before negotiations had even concluded. In a letter of 26 February 2024, NHS lawyers said that when the contract was published in late December, 417 of its 586 pages were completely blanked out – including vitally important sections relating to data protection – because they were still “subject to commercial negotiation”.

“In mid-December 2023 NHS England was still in the process of agreeing some of the contractual provisions with the relevant suppliers, and so decided to redact certain information (including clause 23 and the schedules) on the basis that they were still subject to commercial negotiation until agreed.”

We do not believe it is lawful for a public body to conduct negotiations after the award of a contract. And it is difficult to understand why the NHS might want to – it is unfair to other bidders and involves trying to negotiate after having relinquished its negotiating power. 

Polling commissioned by our friends at Doctors’ Association UK revealed that 48% of people would likely opt out if the data were held by a private company. Opt-outs at this level would damage or destroy the value of the underlying data – which suggests we ought to be especially careful about who we partner with. This raises a serious question: why was Palantir given the multimillion-pound contract to run the NHS federated data platform?

Palantir is almost uniquely ill-equipped to hold that contract. It was established to help governments conduct law enforcement, warfare and policing. Its founder has said he believes the NHS makes people sick. This all makes Palantir, to put it mildly, a surprising choice of partner.

The Government has a troubling history of giving contracts to its friends, in ways that even a bullied judiciary has been prepared to declare unlawful. The head of Palantir’s UK operation subsequently made a donation to a Conservative Minister.

Through its lawyers, Good Law Project continues to seek an explanation – and it looks likely formal legal action will result. It is clear there are serious questions for Ministers to answer surrounding the contract and how and why Palantir landed the deal.