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In recent years, the UK’s publicly funded National Health Service (NHS) has entered into an increasing number of contracts with private technology companies.2 As it attempts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, the free-atpoint-of-use NHS has been entering into more of these public–private partnerships. The NHS’s efforts to develop effective data analytics and cutting-edge technologies highlight the shifting power relations at the intersection of the digital economy, the delivery of indispensable healthcare services, and the need for reliable data infrastructures. While this is an ongoing trend, the current crisis offers a unique standpoint from which to examine these power dynamics and consider how the commissioning of COVID-19 related data-intensive technologies may continue or even accelerate unfolding trajectories. Four actors hold different forms of power in the context of private-public health tech agreements—the NHS, private firms, the scientific community and people, by which we mean all individuals using the national healthcare system—and it is necessary to look at them and their mutual interactions in turn.

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The NHS The NHS is the umbrella name for all public healthcarerelated services in the UK. It includes a variety of institutions, ranging from hospital trusts and authorities governing devolved healthcare provision in the country’s four devolved nations, to NHSX, a body founded in 2019 to drive digital transformation in the NHS. If properly connected, structured and governed, NHS datasets could be immensely valuable for diagnostic and therapeutic research, and for improving healthcare management. The NHS thus acts as the guardian of a precious public resource—one that industry actors covet. Polling indicates that the NHS boasts consistently higher levels of public trust than comparable organisations,3 and that the public are more willing to provide their clinical data to the NHS than to any private actor.4 This public trust, as well as data relating to an entire nation’s health and care, gives the NHS a significant source of power.

Profile for Meatspace Press

Data Justice and COVID-19: Global Perspectives  

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how social, economic, and political power is created, exerted, and extended through technology. Through c...

Data Justice and COVID-19: Global Perspectives  

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how social, economic, and political power is created, exerted, and extended through technology. Through c...

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