Google locked out of Covid-19 data­base for NHS pa­tients

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Margi Mur­phy in San Fran­cisco

THE NHS has dropped Google from its Covid-19 pa­tient data­base, dash­ing the Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ant’s hopes of em­bed­ding it­self in Bri­tain’s health ser­vice in a time of cri­sis.

De­spite sign­ing a con­tract with the health ser­vice’s dig­i­tal arm NHSX to pro­vide con­sul­tancy ser­vices, the part­ner­ship fiz­zled out last month, The

Daily Tele­graph has learnt.

In the early days of the out­break, Google, along with Mi­crosoft, Ama­zon, Palan­tir and AI firm Fac­ulty, vol­un­teered to build a plat­form that would bring to­gether Covid-19 data from all parts of the health­care ser­vice. Of­fi­cials would use it to draw up poli­cies based on out­break pre­dic­tions and im­prove health­care pro­vi­sions.

An­nounced in March, the Covid-19 “Data Store” col­lated test re­sults, pro­tec­tive equip­ment sup­ply chains and hos­pi­tal bed num­bers along with other med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion like pre­vi­ous health is­sues, in­clud­ing men­tal health.

Fac­ulty used this data to pro­duce dash­boards that were used in the Gov­ern­ment’s daily up­dates.

Doc­tors and nurses were ex­pected to use Google Forms and other G Suite soft­ware to en­ter pa­tient in­for­ma­tion like hos­pi­tal oc­cu­pancy and A&E ca­pac­ity to the Data Store.

How­ever, an NHSX spokesman said that Google had been let go “af­ter an eval­u­a­tion of their tools”. Google de­clined to com­ment.

There has since been no pub­lic an­nounce­ment about the ef­fec­tive­ness of the Data Store but re­ports sug­gest the NHS has been strug­gling to get a grip on its test­ing data.

A Sky News in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed a hap­haz­ard ap­proach with of­fi­cials read­ing from a mis­match of Ex­cel spread­sheets and hand­writ­ten ta­bles, which were re­port­edly sub­mit­ted as part of the na­tional test­ing data.

Civil rights groups have raised con­cerns about the Data Store and say that a re­lax­ation in data pro­tec­tion law, to en­able medics to help peo­ple with­out fear­ing break­ing the law, might be abused. The NHS says that it owns all of the data, not the tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies. The ini­tial NHS Data Store con­tracts showed that Fac­ulty, the com­pany em­ployed by Do­minic Cum­mings for the Vote Leave cam­paign, and Palan­tir had ini­tially been granted in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights and were al­lowed to train their mod­els and “profit off their un­prece­dented ac­cess to NHS data”, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign group openDemoc­racy.

Gov­ern­ment lawyers told openDemoc­racy that the con­tracts have been up­dated to rem­edy the loop­hole.

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