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UK healthcare workers blockade NHS entrance to protest deal with military tech firm

Demonstrators protested the NHS's contract with US-based Palantir, which they say is 'profiting from Israel's war on hospitals'
Healthcare workers gather in front of the NHS headquarters in London to protest deal with Palantir (Vi Dimitrova/Supplied)

Dozens of healthcare workers blocked the entrance to NHS England headquarters in London on Wednesday morning, demanding the cancellation of its contract with US spy-tech company Palantir, which supplies advanced technology to Israel's military.

The protest came days after Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza's al-Shifa Hospital after a two-week-long siege that left hundreds of Palestinians dead, including healthcare workers and patients, and destroyed all buildings in the medical complex, which was the biggest in all of Palestine.

Videos posted on social media of the scene at NHS England showed protesters in central London holding banners stating "no Palantir in the NHS" and chanting "we are the workers, we won't be silent" and "stop the contract". 

In November last year, the NHS signed a £330m ($414m) contract with Colorado-based Palantir for software to manage patient medical data with the aim of increasing the efficiency of NHS services and improved allocation of resources.

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But the move immediately prompted concerns about patients' privacy given Palantir's background in military and intelligence.

"A company profiting from Israel's war on hospitals, and the massacre of health workers and patients, has absolutely no place in our NHS," said Harriet, an emergency medicine doctor and member of Health Workers for a Free Palestine, in a press statement.

"Palantir's extensive support to the Israeli military with 'advanced technology' has undoubtedly contributed to the systematic destruction of Gaza's healthcare system and killing of doctors and nurses, and this likely includes the siege which has turned al-Shifa Hospital into a mass graveyard," the statement continued.

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A spokesperson for Health Workers for a Free Palestine told Middle East Eye in November, when news of the contract emerged that "many would be rightly concerned that a third-party company is managing their medical data, let alone Palantir, whose interests are at odds with the British public, Palestinian people and our collective humanity".

Amnesty International has also expressed concern with the contract.

"Palantir is a very troubling choice of service provider for the NHS given the human rights controversies surrounding the company," said Peter Frankental, Amnesty UK's Business and Human Rights Director, in a press release.

"We do not trust what Palantir will do with our data," Harriet told MEE. "This money is taxpayers' money, that should not be going into the pockets of a private company but instead be spent on the improvement NHS services." 

MEE reached out to NHS for comment, but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

"Health Workers for a Free Palestine demands three things: first, the NHS should cancel the contract; second, we demand no more contracts with companies complicit in Israeli apartheid and genocide in Gaza; third, we demand an end to the privatisation of all healthcare services," Harriet told MEE. 

Palantir's involvement in Israel

Palantir was set up in 2003 by billionaire investor Peter Thiel and received funding from the CIA's venture capital arm. In the years following its establishment, Palantir's clients were US military and spy agencies. 

Palantir has been outspoken in its pro-Israel stance, including a social media post on 12 October which read: "Certain kinds of evil can only be fought with force. Palantir stands with Israel."

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Palantir CEO Alex Karp has also reportedly stated that the company was "exceedingly proud" that after the Hamas-led attacks on 7 October, "within weeks, we are on the ground and we are involved in operationally crucial operations in Israel" . 

In January, the company had its first board meeting of the year in Tel Aviv, after which a "strategic partnership" with the Israeli Ministry of Defence was agreed upon, executive vice president Josh Harris told Bloomberg.

Last month, Karp disclosed during a CNBC podcast, that the company had lost employees over its support of Israel's military onslaught on Gaza and expects to lose more.

Nearly 33,000 Palestinians, including 14,500 children have been killed since the beginning of the war, including 30 of starvation, according to Palestinian officials.

Additionally, 484 medical personnel have been killed and 32 hospitals are reportedly out of service.

The Gaza government media office also says that over one million people are suffering from infectious diseases due to their displacement, and 350,000 chronic disease patients are at risk due to the lack of medication.

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