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 AI, 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.
The Telegraph reported last month that prior to Google signing a contract, executive Mustafa Suleyman had been advising the NHS on how best to tackle Covid-19. A Google artificial intelligence chief, Demis Hassabis, took part in the government’s SAGE committee
The NHS recently backtracked over its long delayed contact tracing app, after initially shunning the help of Google and Apple. The technology companies are offering governments an integration tool that would allow apps to work efficiently with their smartphones, which make up almost the entirety of the phone market in the UK.
NHSX had planned to build an app that sent user data to central servers, storing the information to better tackle the virus. But Google and Apple said it would not give access to its integration tool if the app transmitted information on its users anywhere other than on the phone itself, to protect consumer privacy.
After months of testing out a version, NHSX officials changed their mind and are now working with Google and Apple’s technology. It is hoped that the app will be ready for winter when a second surge of Covid-19 is feared.
Google has at least five contracts with NHS health trusts as of 2019. Previous health efforts include a deal between the Royal Free hospital in 2017 to create an app to predict kidney disease.
The Information Commissioner later found that, during the partnership, 1.6 million NHS patient records had been illegally accessed and processed without direct consent.