stop-sharing-campaigners

Doctors of the World’s statement on Legal Victory to #StopSharing patient information

Published 12th November 2018

UPDATE: Since this morning’s news that a controversial information-sharing agreement will be withdrawn, Government has now announced it is already working on a new deal to share patient information for immigration enforcement.  A Home Office spokesperson said: “We continue to work with NHS Digital on a new memorandum of understanding to enable us to make requests for non-medical information about those facing deportation action because they have committed serious crimes.” Leading medical bodies oppose the sharing of patient information for immigration purposes and there is plenty of evidence to show that it is dangerous both to individuals and public health, but still the Home Office is determined to exploit NHS records. Doctors of the World will continue to challenge any agreement that threatens the safety and confidentiality of our healthcare services.

The Government has agreed to drop a controversial agreement that allowed NHS Digital to share patient information with the Home Office to track down migrants. The decision follows legal action, taken by Migrants’ Rights Network and Liberty with NHS Digital, one of the parties to the agreement, confirming to the court it will withdraw from the information-sharing deal.

The decision marks the end of a government policy to use information, collected by NHS staff in NHS services, to support immigration enforcement. Irregular migrant patients, including refused asylum seekers, will now be able to access NHS primary care services without their home address being passed onto the Home Office, and running the risk of being put into detention and deported.

“Common sense and ethical medicine have won the argument. Many lives will be improved, even saved, as a result” said Dr Peter Gough, an NHS GP and Trustee of Doctors of the World (DOTW), welcoming the news:

At DOTW clinics we see people too frightened to see a doctor or midwife because they are scared it could lead to them being reported to the Home Office, and then returned to an unsafe country. This includes people who have fled war, conflict, persecution or brutal traffickers, people who are looking to the UK for protection. Now they can go to a GP safe in the knowledge that confidentiality will be respected.

The #StopSharing campaign

The change in policy comes after intense campaigning by Doctors of the World and other charities (including the National AIDs Trust and Liberty) which gained support from cross-party MPs and medical bodies.

Doctors of the World’s #StopSharing campaign mobilised over 70,000 people and saw a van spoofing Theresa May’s “go home” vans drive though Westminster and Whitehall as doctors, nurses and midwives campaigned outside the Home Office. Dr Peter Gough, NHS GP and Trustee of Doctors of the World:

We are grateful to Liberty, the Migrants Rights Network, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, and all who supported the Campaign.

Following an inquiry into the information-sharing agreement, the House of Commons Health & Social Care Committee, led by Dr Sarah Wollaston, called on NHS Digital to immediately stop sharing patient details with the immigration authorities. The British Medical Association[1]and the Royal College of GPs[2] expressed deep concern about the Government’s approach to sharing confidential patient information.

The Government had previously said it would amend the arrangement between the Home Office and NHS Digital so it would only apply in cases (or suspected cases) of serious crime. 

Immigration enforcement and the NHS

NHS Digital has a history of sharing patient information with the Home Office to support immigration enforcement. In 2016 the Home Office made over 8,127 requests for information, which led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration teams.

In early 2017 sharing NHS patient information for immigration enforcement became official government policy when the Department of Health and NHS Digital signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Home Office, allowing immigration officials to request patients’ non-clinical information (including home address, date of birth and GP’s details).

Anyone in need of healthcare but too afraid to go to the NHS can contact Doctors of the World UK on 0207 0789629 for free and confidential healthcare and advice.