Stop sharing NHS data with Home Office, officials told (Telegraph)
The NHS has been urged to stop handing confidential data over to immigration officials, with claims sensitive records have been treated “like the Yellow Pages”.
Dr Wollaston said information was being handed over routinely, when it could not be justified.
She said: “There is a clear ethical principle that address data held for the purposes of health and care should only be shared for law enforcement purposes in the case of serious crime. NHS Digital's decision to routinely share information with the Home Office with a lower threshold is entirely inappropriate.
"This behaviour calls into question NHS Digital’s ability to robustly act on behalf of patients in the event of other data sharing requests including from other government departments in the future.” [Already happening in Scotland by govt GIRFEC diktat]
“It is absolutely crucial that the public have confidence that those at the top of NHS Digital have both an understanding of the ethical principles underpinning confidentiality and the determination to act in the best interests of patients.”
During hearings of the committee, charities said the situation had left immigrants frightened to seek help, even when their life was at risk, with one case where a domestic worker died because she feared the attention of the authorities after contracting pneumonia.
The British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs have criticised the situation, also calling for a suspension of a memorandum between the Home Office and NHS which has given them acces
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The Home Office is displaying a blatant disregard for the trusted and vital GP-patient relationship, and its casual approach to confidential patient data risks alienating highly vulnerable patients.
“It is treating GP patient data like the Yellow Pages, and we are calling on NHS Digital to take urgent measures to suspend the agreement that is allowing them to do so.
“The scale of the examples we’re hearing about are becoming increasingly alarming – and if all are true, paint a terrible picture,” she said.
Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chairman, said: “The BMA has been vocal in its opposition to this data sharing arrangement between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, which risks undermining the very foundation of the doctor-patient relationship.”
“We therefore welcome this report, which echoes many of our key concerns over the ill-thought out and potentially destructive agreement that NHS Digital is yet to resolve.
“As stated by the committee, most immigration offences clearly do not meet the high public interest threshold for releasing confidential data, which according to NHS England, the GMC and even NHS Digital’s own guidance, should be reserved for cases which involve ‘serious’ crime.
He said doctors were being asked to “effectively act as an enforcer for the Home Office”.
“If the bond of trust between doctor and patient is broken, it risks not only the health of that individual, but can also have serious public health implications if people suffering from infectious conditions avoid seeking medical treatment,” he said.
He said the use of the data also set a “dangerous precedent that opens up the possibility of patients’ data being passed on not just in immigration cases, but for other non-health-related purposes.”