Yesterday, hundreds of health workers blockaded the central London headquarters of US tech giant and spy firm Palantir (of this and this and this and this and this and this and this), which was awarded a £330 million contract by NHS England last month to create a new data management system called the Federated Data Platform.
Palantir specialises in AI-powered military, surveillance technology, and data analytics, working with the CIA and the UK Ministry of Defence. The company has provided military and surveillance technology to the Israeli government for many years, including predictive policing services, which are used as part of the occupation to systematically harass and detain Palestinians. Digital technology and surveillance tools developed and used by Israel are ‘field-tested‘ on Palestinians before they are exported.
US city police also use Palantir’s predictive policing services to target poor and black communities. In September, Palantir launched their Government Web Services, boasting that “the capabilities that we were able to give the Israeli government…was incredible”.
Palantir has stated during the ongoing bombardment of Gaza that it has increased its support for Israel. For example, in a recent letter to shareholders, the company said, “We are one of a few companies in the world to stand up and announce our support for Israel, which remains steadfast“. Speaking to Fox Business last month, one of Palantir’s co-founders, Joe Lonsdale, specifically boasted about the company keeping Israel “armed and ahead”.
“It should be unthinkable for the NHS to do grubby deals with a company which is complicit in, and profiting from, Israel’s systematic destruction of healthcare facilities, resulting in the killing of more healthcare workers in the last ten weeks than the total number killed in all countries in conflict globally last year.
“The entire purpose of the NHS is the preservation of life. As health workers, we cannot turn a blind eye to the health service being implicated in the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the slaughter of our colleagues – fellow nurses, doctors, dentists, medical students and other health workers – and their patients.
“We’re here to blockade and disrupt Palantir’s blood-soaked business, and we will continue mobilising until NHS England agrees to keep our NHS data out of bloodstained hands.”
~ Jessica, a nurse and member of Health Workers for a Free Palestine.
The blockade has been organised in response to an urgent call for support from health unions in Palestine over Israel’s systematic targeting of healthcare facilities. Hundreds of members of Health Workers for a Free Palestine, who are protesting in their scrubs and chanting “no place for war profiteers in our NHS” and “keep NHS data out of bloodstained hands”, are demanding that NHS England’s contract with Palantir be cancelled and that no other NHS contracts be awarded to companies complicit in the genocide in Gaza.
They also call for NHS data management to be brought back in-house amid widespread concerns about patient privacy. NHS data has an estimated value of £10 billion per year, and companies like Palantir can use it to develop their new products and gain significant profit. Polling commissioned this year by the Health Foundation shows the majority of the British public trust NHS organisations, rather than private companies, to handle their data.
Today’s mass picket occurs during the second of the three NHS junior doctor strike days for fair pay, and the health workers protesting will highlight NHS data being sold for corporate profit while the NHS is chronically underfunded and NHS workers suffer a real terms pay cut. They will set out their concerns that the Palantir deal represents further asset stripping, outsourcing and privatisation of NHS services for the benefit of multinational corporations, noting Palantir’s Chair Peter Thiel’s comments this year describing British people’s affection for the NHS as “Stockholm Syndrome” and his suggestion that “you just rip the whole thing from the ground and start over”.
Today’s health workers’ blockade is taking place in conjunction with a global day of action against Elbit Systems, with protests shutting down Elbit operations at different sites worldwide, including in the UK, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Belgium and Sweden.
“This Palantir deal exemplifies the asset-stripping of our health service, which is being used to line the pockets of private companies while the NHS faces chronic underfunding and junior doctors like me who are currently on strike are suffering real-term pay cuts.
“Polling shows the British public strongly opposes the privatisation of our NHS, and the majority do not trust corporations to protect the privacy of their health data. We are calling on the NHS to cancel its contract with this Gaza war profiteer, ensure no other complicit companies are awarded contracts, bring data management back in-house and stop selling our NHS services for corporate profits.”
~ Zara, a junior doctor, member of the BMA and of Health Workers for a Free Palestine.
Images: Talia Woodin