NHS Digital stops sharing patient data with immigration officials

The government has revised its agreement that allows NHS Digital to share non-clinical information with the Home Office.

The move follows many years of pressure from MPs, doctors and charities, all of whom have been concerned at the way personal information has been used to trace immigration offenders and vulnerable people.

This meant that NHS Digital could be asked to hand over information such as a person’s last known address, or their date of birth, to the Home Office.

MP Margot James, a minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been amended “with immediate effect” in the wake of the Windrush immigration debacle.

“The aim is to narrow the MOU’s scope, so that it only facilitates the exchange of personal data in cases involving serious criminality,” she said.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We are extremely pleased and relieved that the Government has suspended the data-sharing agreement that has been in place with NHS Digital – it is a huge victory for common sense, for civil rights and for high-quality patient care.

“This is what is best for our patients, and it is what is best for doctors, who are trusted to keep our patients’ data safe but have recently felt as if the relationship we have with our patients has been compromised.”

Prof Stokes-Lampard went on to stress the importance of re-establishing any trust that may have been lost around how NHS data is used.

Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, echoed this. He said: “This is a positive step which recognises our widespread concerns regarding the memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care regarding the sharing of confidential NHS data for immigration purposes.

“The relationship between doctor and patient is based on a foundation of confidentiality and trust, and if this breaks down, it not only damages this individual relationship, but also is likely to have knock-on effects on the healthcare seeking behaviour of the public at large.”

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, welcomed the Home Office’s response to the health select committee’s concerns and pledged to amend the MOU between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, and publish the updated version openly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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