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Palantir's poaching of former NHSX AI chief branded “scandalous”

The controversial tech company is currently competing for a £240 million NHS federated data platform (FDP) contract

Palantir’s decision to hire former NHSX AI director Dr Indra Joshi has been described as "deeply worrying" by a leading privacy expert amid the controversial tech company competing for a £240 million NHS federated data platform (FDP) contract.

Joshi, who left NHSX on 31 March 2022, oversaw the creation of the NHS AI Lab prior to being appointed to the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in May 2020. During her time at NHSX, she oversaw a number of significant tech deals as the UK’s healthcare system expanded its AI capabilities.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group which campaigns for digital rights and freedoms, described Palantir’s "recruitment of this senior NHS executive" as "deeply worrying".

Palantir is currently seeking a deal to manage the NHS's new £240 million FDP announced earlier this month. Described as "an ecosystem of technologies and services" and "an essential enabler to transformational improvements across the NHS", the system will manage population health insight, care coordination, elective recovery, vaccines and immunisation, as well as the NHS supply chain.

Killock, however, told IT Pro "the NHS should not be relying on them [Palantir] as a supplier".

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The US data analytics company has long garnered controversy due to its alleged role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as reported by CNBC in 2018. Founded by US entrepreneur Peter Thiel as a service that supported the CIA's counterinsurgency and intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Palantir has been accused of seeking "unprecedented" access to NHS patient data. Apart from the NHS, the company also manages sensitive data for the UK’s Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office.

Due to Joshi’s close ties with the NHS, meanwhile, her hiring also has been criticised for representing a "conflict of interest" by critics, including ​​MBI Healthcare Technologies partner and former NHS divisional manager, Barry Mulholland. "It’s scandalous," he said. "What’s more is that the two people leading the procurement have been cheerleading the Palantir product across the NHS for the last [six] months. Clear conflict of interest," he wrote in a Twitter post.

Joshi’s hiring could potentially break the NHS’ strict employment regulations, too, which bar former staff members from lobbying or recruiting old colleagues for six months after joining the private sector.

A Palantir spokesman told IT Pro that the company is "delighted that Indra has agreed to join the team, which we are aiming to grow by 250 in the UK this year".

"Indra has extensive experience of cutting-edge technologies and their real-world application. She has helped lead standards and best practice in data and AI governance with both the UK and international bodies. Indra will work with Palantir’s many customers to help improve their operations and transform their businesses. We are proud of the work we have done with [the] NHS over the last two years in response to the COVID-19 crisis, which included helping to power the NHS' COVID-19 vaccination programme," they added.

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