Last year NHS England, the government entity that runs the National Health Service in England, launched a plan to digitally scrape the practice database of up to 55 million patients and provide their information to any private third party willing to pay for it. While patients were given the option to opt-out of the data scraping, the NHS only gave them three weeks to make their decision. After the Financial Times broke the story, the NHS dropped the plan and allegedly turned its attention to reassuring patients that their information and data were secure.
Now, the NHS is using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to try the ploy a second time by scraping hospital data rather than general practice data. The NHS has also foregone notifying patients about the scraping this time under the pretext that analyzing hospital data will assist the NHS with improving wait times at hospitals which became a point of criticism for the NHS during the pandemic.
According to the head of technology research at the UK investment bank Peel Hunt, Damindu Jayaweera, "There are only two places as far as I know that digitize the data of the whole population from birth to death... China and the UK." Palantir, a U.S. big data analytics firm with ties to the defense industry is hoping to become the NHS's data operating system. Palantir has not only brought on board two senior managers from the NHS, but it is now pursuing a 5-year contract worth £360 million to manage the health data for the entire NHS system.
In previous discussions regarding the use of patient data for research and analysis purposes, both the NHS and UK government ministers insisted that patients whose data was used would be kept confidential. However, according to documents from NHS England, the governing body directed NHS Digital, which will soon merge with NHS England, to collect hospital data that will identify patients including data related to admission, inpatient, discharge, and outpatient information.
The NHS's complete disregard for its patients or data security is alarming. The new scheme involving Palantir is reminiscent of the dystopian novel, 1984. While the U.S. uses HIPAA laws to protect patients' health information and data, the UK intends to pass it out for profit without even alerting patients to what is happening. Private healthcare is certainly expensive and unfortunately not always available to the masses, but it is certainly better than the dystopia that the UK government is pushing on its citizens without their knowledge or consent.
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