Five National Health Trusts have signed up to transfer their existing data deals with DeepMind to its parent company Google, but one has refused.
The Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust, Imperial College Healthcare Trust, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trust and University College London all agreed to sign up with Google Health UK, and only Yeovil NHS Trust declined the offer. Taunton and Somerset has also made the move but will not be using the Streams app following a pilot in 2018.
The agreement is controversial because DeepMind was handed 1.6 million patient health records by the Royal Free Hospital despite no patient having given their consent for their data to be shared or used in this way. The ICO cried foul on grounds of data handling and patient consent.
The Royal Free then got law firm Linklaters to carry out an audit which took an opposite view to the ICO and patient groups. DeepMind repeatedly reassured people that its acquisition by Google would not lead to it handing over data. One of Google’s first actions on borging DeepMind was to shut its independent ethics review panel.
The primary application in use from DeepMind is a mobile phone app to aid diagnosis of acute kidney injury. Although the company touts its AI ability, the Streams app uses an existing NHS decision tree to make its diagnosis.
Acute Kidney Injury is extremely common, affecting 15 per cent of hospital admissions, and while bad enough on its own can also be an early indicator of other serious issues like sepsis.
A spokeswoman for Yeovil Hospital said it had been working with DeepMind and Streams since 2017 but: “The app was never operationalised, and no patient data was processed.
“What’s key for us as a hospital, when it comes to considering the implementation of any new piece of technology, is whether it improves the effectiveness and safety of patient care and how it tessellates with existing ways of working. Working with the DeepMind team, we found that Streams is not necessary for our organisation at the current time.
“Whilst our contractual relationship has ended, we will remain an anchor partner of Google Health so will continue to be part of conversations about emerging technology which may be of benefit to our patients and our clinicians in the future.”
A recent paper in Nature evaluated the impact of the Streams app on patient recovery and found no significant improvements to patient outcomes. Four of the papers authors admitted in an attached ethics declaration that they are paid consultants for DeepMind, another author had a research fellowship partly funded by DeepMind and has worked for them full-time since May 2018. But the declaration states: “DeepMind remained independent from the collection and analysis of all data.”
One of the authors, and paid consultant for DeepMind, is also renal consultant at the Royal Free Hospital. We’ve asked the Royal Free whether it considers this a conflict of interest.
David Shannon, director of strategic development at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, explained why they would not be using the app:
“In 2017, Musgrove Park Hospital entered a five year agreement with supplier, DeepMind Technologies, to develop digital solutions for clinicians to use. An app was piloted in 2018 but to date not progressed. As such, DeepMind holds no patient data from Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.
“We have two years remaining of this contract and, after careful consideration, we have now transferred or ‘novated’ our agreements from DeepMind Technologies to Google Health UK.”
An ICO spokeswoman told us: “Although the ICO cannot approve the steps taken to mitigate any additional risks to personal data as a result of contractual changes, we have been regularly updated on these changes and have made the organisations aware of their obligations under data protection law.”
UK health secretary Matt Hancock has previously been accused of being hypnotised by technology for its own sake and for the sake of a “shiny things” press release such as his £250m bung to an AI lab for the NHS.
Phil Booth co-ordinator at medical data and privacy lobby group MedConfidential said:
“If NHS bodies are signing contracts to share large amounts of patient medical history and data with foreign corporations, then we the patients, the public, have to know what’s being done is fully consensual, safe and transparent.
“Handing 1.5m patients’ records to Google was justified in 2015 as the only option – has the NHS under Matt Hancock made no progress on NHS tech?”
The Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust declined to answer our questions and instead pointed us to this statement on their website. ®