• Ex-DH director Will Cavendish leaves senior role at Google AI firm, DeepMind
  • Decision, after less than 12 months in the role, made primarily for personal and family reasons
  • Comes as AI firms using NHS patient data to build algorithms come under growing scrutiny

A former Department of Health director is leaving his lead role at Google’s British artificial intelligence venture after less than 12 months with the company.

Will Cavendish will today leave his role as head of strategy at Google-owned AI firm DeepMind, HSJ has learnt.

In an email to DeepMind staff obtained by the HSJ, Mr Cavendish said move was ”primarily for personal and family reasons, which are always the most important ones in life”.

Before joining DeepMind in October last year, Mr Cavendish had worked as DH’s director general of innovation, growth and technology. Directly prior to moving to DeepMind he was seconded to the Cabinet Office.

The relationship between DeepMind, bought by Google in 2014, and the NHS had come under growing scrutiny, with its patient data sharing arrangement with Royal Free London Foundation Trust recently criticised by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The New Scientist revealed last year that 1.6 million Royal Free patients’ records have been shared with the company without their explicit consent.

 The trust and company argued the records were needed for direct care, to develop a new acute kidney injury alert app, called Streams.

 However, in July the ICO ruled that the trust should have obtained patients’ consent before sharing records with DeepMind and highlighted “several shortcomings in how the data was handled”.

Deepmind has separate data partnerships with other NHS trusts, including Taunton and Somerset FT, Imperial College Healthcare, and Moorfield Eye Hospital FT. None are under ICO investigation.

The growing number of partnerships between global data technology companies and individual NHS trusts to develop health algorithms, such as the deal between DeepMind and the Royal Free, was specifically addressed in the government’s life science industrial strategy last week.

The strategy said a national framework was needed for such deals, as some of “may not share the rewards fairly” or spread the benefits to the wider NHS.

In his email, Mr Cavendish stated: ”I am… pleased that that as a result of work done in the last year, DeepMind Applied now has a set of clear strategic frameworks for its work going forward, and outstanding sets of projects underway.”

Mr Cavendish referred HSJ to DeepMind when contacted for comment. A DeepMind spokeswoman said: “We’re grateful for Will’s work with us over the last year and we wish him well for the future.”