NHS Royal Free London Signs Five-Year Deal With Google’s DeepMind

The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust has announced a revamped deal with Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence subsidiary to further develop a diagnostic tool that was widely criticised while in initial trials over the breadth of patient data it would have access to.

The new agreement for the Streams application includes an expanded oversight scheme and greater transparency, with the key agreements governing the new deal being made available (PDF) to the public.

Transparency

DeepMind has also registered the software as a medical device with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), a step it said it was unnecessary while the system was being tested.

Earlier this year Streams was criticised by privacy advocates for giving DeepMind broad access to data on the 1.6 million patients who use the trust’s three hospitals, Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free, each year.

The data includes information on people who are HIV-positive and details of drug overdoses and abortions, as well as real-time data on admissions, discharges and patient transfers, and access to patient data for the past five years, according to the agreement.

The original agreement wasn’t disclosed until science magazine New Scientist obtained it through a Freedom of Information request in May.

Privacy concern

DeepMind said the data will be encrypted, will be stored in a UK-based data centre and will not be made available to parent company Google.

The new agreement won’t change the number of patients whose data DeepMind will have access to, the NHS said.

Privacy campaigners praised DeepMind and the NHS for taking steps to make the deal more transparent, but said it is still unclear why DeepMind requires such extensive data access.

The group said it isn’t using the data it has access to to develop machine learning models, but acknowledged it is using the tool’s development process to build a commercial revenue framework.

The NHS said it was necessary to work with “world leading partners” to develop new technologies that could help patients.

Streams is intended to automate the process of building patient profiles, alerting practicioners when a patient needs care and circumventing easily preventable health crises.

It is initially being used to help treat kidney patients, but the NHS and DeepMind plan to add other patient types over the course of the five-year agreement.

The tool is to be deployed across Royal Free hospitals from early next year.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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