A consortium of British data companies is taking on US-based Palantir, in the bid for a £480mn NHS contract to build the health service’s operating system.
The companies, which include Voror Health Technologies, Eclipse and Black Pear, told the Financial Times they could provide software at a fraction of the cost budgeted, while also safeguarding UK patient data and reinvesting in the health system.
The three companies, which say they will also work alongside a number of UK universities, have supplied IT to the NHS for decades and currently manage the health data of more than 30mn British patients between them.
The group hopes to compete against Palantir, the $17bn data analytics company led by chief executive Alex Karp and co-founded by Peter Thiel, the tech investor and prominent backer of US Republican political candidates.
Palantir is best known for its ties to the security, defence and intelligence sectors. Its emergence as a strong frontrunner for the contract has led some NHS staff and medical trade unions to voice concerns about its suitability to run national health systems as well as the dangers of the NHS relying on a single private company for its key functions.
“We know that the NHS is a very complex system, and different from other healthcare systems around the world, particularly in terms of its meticulous protection of patient data,” said Julian Brown, chief executive of Eclipse, and a practising general physician. “We were very keen that the NHS stays in control of the data . . . and to reinvest the revenue in frontline NHS services.”
The deadline to participate in the process passed earlier this month, and the contract is expected to be awarded in the autumn.
Other international tech giants thought to have bid to run the data infrastructure include Oracle Cerner and IBM, according to people familiar with the bidding process.
Cloud computing providers Microsoft and Amazon Web Services had partnered with many of the bidders, the person added.
Palantir became the NHS’s go-to data analytics provider during the pandemic. Its Foundry software was used in the management of ventilators and PPE equipment, as well as delivery of the nationwide vaccination programme. The group landed a further £23.5mn contract to tackle patient waiting lists in December 2020.
Shane Tickell, chief executive of Voror, said: “We’re all committed to the UK, we have growing jobs, we want to grow skills . . . we’re prepared to offer the country an alternative [to Palantir].”
The strong competition and the size of the funding on offer meant that the platform provision may be divided between several bidders, a person familiar with the process said.
A small UK start-up, Quantexa, told the FT in November that it planned to bid and is thought to be being courted by a number of the consortiums. Quantexa declined to comment.
Last year, the NHS broke up the contract into four parts: provision of the platform; privacy enhancing technology; an app store-style marketplace and training; implementation and deployment of the tech.
But the right to run the platform remains the most valuable prize, worth £360mn over five years with the possibility of two 12-month extensions, worth an extra £120mn.
Ming Tang, chief data and analytics officer at NHS England, told the FT in November that the NHS had split up the procurement to “safeguard” the service.
“Whoever processes the platform cannot own the privacy enhancing technology so the key transfer [of data] is safe,” she said.
Another British company, data privacy software provider Privitar, plans to bid for the smaller £35mn contract to provide privacy enhancing technology, but this procurement process will not begin until after a provider of the platform technology is chosen.
Palantir, IBM and Amazon declined to comment. Microsoft and Oracle Cerner did not respond to requests for comment.