Palantir, the software company founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, on Tuesday won a major contract in Britain to help overhaul the technology system of the country’s state-run health service, overcoming concerns about a firm known for its military-related work in the United States securing such a sensitive role involving patient data.
The National Health Service said Palantir had been awarded the seven-year contract, worth 330 million pounds, or about $415 million, to build a new platform that integrates data from across the N.H.S. into a central repository. Called the Federated Data Platform, the system is intended to make it easier to share patient information and analyze wider health trends across the sprawling health service. The contract is for the N.H.S. in England and does not cover Scotland or Wales.
Palantir was a controversial choice, as some doctors, civil society groups and members of Parliament had raised concerns about giving the company responsibility for building what could eventually become one of the world’s largest repositories of health data. In addition to privacy concerns and the company’s links to Mr. Thiel, a libertarian investor who was one of President Donald J. Trump’s major 2016 donors, many health officials and policymakers were rankled by Palantir’s aggressive lobbying tactics to win the new contract. Others have raised questions about the technology’s effectiveness.
Palantir was awarded the contract in partnership with Accenture, the business consulting firm, PwC, NECS and Carnall Farrar.
N.H.S. England said in a statement that the new platform would “bring together existing N.H.S. data, making it easier for staff to access key information to provide improved and more timely patient care.”
Alex Karp, Palantir’s chief executive, said in a statement that the system would “help bring down waiting lists, improve patient care and reduce health inequalities.”
Palantir had been a front-runner to win the contract after gaining the trust of many senior government officials during the pandemic. The company played a key role in helping tabulate data about the spread of Covid-19 and the allocation of resources, as well as with the rollout of the country’s vaccine program. Palantir parlayed the work into more health contracts, including a program to help relieve a patient backlog for surgeries and other care.
While the N.H.S. is a government-run system, it is organized across different regional hospitals and trusts, creating silos of information that officials now want to pull together.
The cost of building the data platform was initially announced to be £480 million. On Tuesday, the N.H.S. said additional funds were set aside to build privacy features and for other companies to bid for building new products onto the platform in the future.
Dr. David Nicholl, a spokesman for the Doctors’ Association UK, said it was unclear if Palantir’s technology would provide the promised benefits. A pilot program had delivered mixed results.
“It’s a staggering sum of money when there’s been insufficient scrutiny of the deal and it beggars belief that this is the direction of travel, when other options could and should have been looked at,” Mr. Nicholl said in a statement.
Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a legal group that has opposed Palantir’s involvement in the program, said that “if this system isn’t useful to frontline doctors, it risks becoming a half-billion-pound flop.”
Palantir makes customizable software for organizations to make sense of huge amounts of data. The tools digest information from different sources, then pull it together into visual displays that are easier to interpret.
The company’s business is largely concentrated on contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and others, but has been branching out into health care in search of new areas of growth.
Addressing privacy concerns, the N.H.S. said the contract “expressly forbids use of patient data for commercial gain.”