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Palantir technology to help cut NHS elective care backlog

US data analytics group will roll out its software across 30 hospitals following successful pilot

Palantir, the controversial data analytics group best known for its ties to the defence and security industries, is rolling out software across the UK’s NHS to help reduce the backlog of 6mn patients waiting for elective care.

The US company’s data processing technology will be spread across 30 hospital trusts — bodies that organise healthcare in regions across the country — in March in a bid to help cut NHS waiting lists that have spiralled higher during the coronavirus pandemic.

The rollout comes after a recent pilot of Palantir’s Foundry system at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Trust helped reduce the inpatient waiting list by 28 per cent — the equivalent of tens of thousands of patients — for all non-emergency surgeries, including for cancer treatments.

The expansion will consolidate Palantir’s position as the preferred operating system for the NHS, following its use in the management of ventilators and PPE equipment during the pandemic, and the delivery of the nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme through 2021. While the backlog project is still a proof-of-concept, the NHS is paying £23.5mn for a two-year licence for the technology, expiring in December 2022.

Palantir, which employs more than 600 people in the UK and plans to hire an additional 250 this year, processes sensitive health and national security data for UK public authorities, including NHS England, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence.

But the company, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange at the end of October 2020, has attracted controversy over its work with the US immigration service and close links to national security agencies. In the UK, it has been attacked by privacy campaigners over its NHS work, such as the lack of transparency around its involvement with a Covid “data store”, which manages the distribution of PPE and other medical equipment between UK hospitals.

According to the NHS, 6mn people are now on the waiting list for elective care — all non-urgent medical services ranging from diagnostic tests and scans, to surgery and cancer treatment — up from 4.4mn prior to the pandemic.

Palantir’s technology works by bringing together disparate data, such as number of patients waiting per clinician, operating theatre schedules, staff rosters and patient-specific pre-surgical tests, into a single system that surgeons and other clinical staff — rather than just admin and scheduling staff — could also use. The dashboard allows clinicians to see which patients needed to be prioritised at a glance, allowing them to make real-time decisions on scheduling surgeries.

“The solution has been a game-changer for me — it’s helping me to do my job faster and more efficiently, and has reduced my administrative burden,” said Jeffrey Ahmed, consultant gynaecologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. He added his team was now in the “advanced stages” of using the technology to tackle the outpatient waiting list, “to achieve the same benefits we’ve got for elective patients”.

According to the NHS’ delivery plan for tackling the backlog, published this month, the platform also helped to triple the booking lead times for surgeries, from six to 17 days, giving patients more notice about their surgery dates and therefore “reducing the number of cancellations due to lack of staff or patient availability”. Louis Mosley, who heads Palantir in the UK, said: “The results of the pilot programme at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital have been incredibly promising and we will work to continue to develop technology that can help NHS Trusts to reduce the backlog and ensure patients get the care they need.”


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