A lawsuit has been filed against NHS England due to concerns about patient confidentiality related to a new data platform.
The National Health Service (NHS) has been accused of violating laws by developing a large-scale data platform that will distribute patient information.
Four groups are filing a legal complaint against NHS England, arguing that there is no lawful justification for the creation of the Federated Data Platform (FDP). They intend to request a judicial reassessment of this decision.
Last week, the decision made by NHS England to award the £330m contract to Palantir, a US company known for its spy technology, for the establishment and operation of the FDP for a duration of seven years starting next spring, caused controversy.
The platform utilizes software to facilitate the sharing of information among health service trusts and integrated care systems (ICS), or groups of trusts within a region, with the goal of enhancing patient care.
According to NHS England, the platform will aid hospitals in addressing the significant backlog of 7.8 million patients in need of care. It will also allow for the earlier discharge of patients who are medically ready to leave.
This could potentially be the initial step in a sequence of legal measures driven by concerns that the FDP could result in violations of vulnerable patient health data and ultimately lead to its sale.
Rosa Curling, the head of Foxglove, an organization that tracks the actions of large technology companies, is leading a legal case against the government. She stated that the government has invested £330m in revamping how NHS data is managed, but has surprisingly overlooked ensuring that their system complies with the law.
Expanding access to sensitive patient information must be done in accordance with legal regulations.
According to her, the FDP must receive approval from parliament before proceeding in order for it to be considered legal. She also stated that the government must return to parliament to establish appropriate regulations for data sharing in this system. Until they do so, they are in violation of the law. Additionally, until the government clearly outlines how they will respect patients’ right to opt out, they are heading towards conflict with the public.
Attorneys representing Foxglove, the Doctors’ Association UK, National Pensioners’ Convention, and the patient advocacy group Just Treatment, have issued a pre-action letter to DAC Beachcroft, the law firm that NHS England has hired to handle legal issues pertaining to the platform.
If the NHS is unable to prove its legal authority to establish the FDP in its response, the four organizations will request that the high court conduct a judicial review to assess the legality of NHS England’s decision.
Just Treatment spokesperson, Hope Worsdale, expressed concern that the government’s approach to implementing this plan is damaging the trust necessary for quality patient care and the overall functioning of the healthcare system.
According to Worsdale, the ministers did not take the necessary actions to establish a solid legal basis for the FDP. This is likely because they would have been held accountable for the significant changes it will bring to our health data.
The concerns of the four organizations were dismissed by NHS England, who claimed they were “totally incorrect.” They maintained that they had the legal authority to proceed.
An official from NHS stated: “This written communication demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Federated Data Platform will function and is entirely inaccurate in terms of both legal and factual aspects. The platform will solely utilize data that has been legally obtained by the NHS to assist with direct patient care, in accordance with all applicable data protection laws.”
The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted by The Guardian for a reply.