Google executive advised NHS on how to collect confidential patient data

A Google executive who oversaw an “illegal” NHS data sharing project has been advising the health service on collecting confidential patient information during the coronavirus pandemic.

DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman took up a pro bono advisory role to discuss how to collect patient data, and Google’s suite of cloud products in March. 

Mr Suleyman was given an official NHS email, which has now been deactivated. Google said Mr Suleyman never used the email address. 

Mr Suleyman was one of several Google employees who consulted Matthew Gould, head of NHSX, the health system’s digital arm, in numerous virtual meetings and phone calls, the Telegraph understands. 

London-born Mr Suleyman, who works on AI policy for Google under its top lawyer, Kent Walker, led DeepMind’s health efforts, including a deal between the NHS and the Royal Free hospital in 2017 to create an app to predict kidney disease.  

The Information Commissioner later found that during the project, DeepMind had illegally accessed and processed 1.6m NHS patient records without direct consent.

At the end of March, after the consultancy, the NHSX shared a blog-post announcing that it would be working with Google and other private companies to create a Covid-19 datastore, using data from sources including test results, the track and trace app and hospitals.

An NHSX spokesman said: “Mustafa volunteered his time and expertise for free to help the NHS during the greatest public health threat in a century. There is and never has been any conflict of interest”.

Google took over five of DeepMind’s contracts with NHS health trusts in 2019, when it was absorbed into its newly created Google Health unit. Unlike DeepMind, Google has refused to publish the current and any future contracts, raising questions over its transparency. Google bought the artificial intelligence startup in 2014. 

Mr Suleyman, an Oxford University philosophy drop-out, moved from DeepMind to Google last year, relocating to its Silicon Valley headquarters. 

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