Reports that “Amazon has been handed the keys to a trove of NHS data it can use to develop products to sell internationally without paying a penny to the UK. A government contract, revealed under freedom of information laws, shows the partnership goes far beyond the tie-up with Amazon’s Alexa
voice assistant announced in July.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock
said at the time the NHS should “embrace” the technology, saying it would cut pressure on GPs and pharmacists. But the contract shows the American tech giant could access more than just NHS website data.
“The $863bn company can access “all healthcare information” gathered by the NHS at the UK taxpayers’ expense, including “symptoms, causes and definitions”. It also gets “all related copyrightable content and data and other materials”, excluding patient data. Amazon can use the information to make, advertise and sell “new products, applications, cloud-based services and/or distributed software” and can share it with third parties.
“The NHS will not benefit if Amazon creates a lucrative new health app. A commercial lawyer who analysed the contract said: “The most alarming thing is that Amazon isn’t paying anything for this and the data is very valuable. The NHS is one of the leaders in the world in collecting this data, so it’s incredible really that it is not charging for it.”
“The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, accused the government of being “highly irresponsible” and “in the pocket of big corporate interests”. The Lib Dem Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, added: “It beggars belief that the Conservatives have negotiated the selling off of NHS data for nothing”. The government declined to comment.
“The NHS said that although Amazon was granted a worldwide licence, the Alexa service was for UK users only. A spokesman for NHSX, which is behind the digital transformation of the health service, said: “No patient data is being provided to this company by the NHS, which takes data privacy extremely seriously and has put appropriate safeguards in place.”
“Amazon said the tie-up only involved content already on the NHS website. “Amazon does not build customer health profiles based on interactions with nhs.uk content or use such requests for marketing purposes.”
“The NHS allows third parties such as councils to reuse information from its website but its standard agreements permit use only in the UK. By contrast, the Amazon contract states the licence applies around the world. Several sections have been redacted to protect Amazon’s “commercial interests”.
“Eva Blum-Dumontet, of Privacy International, which obtained the contract, said “it was problematic” that Amazon could profit from products it made “using and exploiting” the NHS data. She also said it was “very worrying” that Amazon “gets to control how publicity is worded”. The contract states the government “may not issue a press release or any other publicity in connection with or related to this agreement or Amazon’s use of licensor content without prior written consent”.