MPs and doctors challenge Home Office access to NHS patient data

Published 23rd January 2018

Semira from Eritrea had been living in the UK for several years, kept captive in modern day slavery.

When she finally managed to escape, she didn’t know where to turn. She was too frightened of the potential consequences of making herself known to any services, including her local GP, so she came to Doctors of the World UK for help.

We want to reassure patients like Semira that it’s safe to go to a GP and access the basic healthcare they’re legally entitled to. But since we found out that NHS Digital had agreed to share thousands of patients’ private information with the Home Office, we haven’t been able to do that. The reality is that if Semira gives her address and her GP saves it on her medical record, the Home Office can access it. She may be tracked down, detained and deported as a result.

Last year, our #StopSharing campaign, supported by doctors and nurses across the country in partnership with the National Aids Trust, called on the Government to end this toxic deal. We also asked the parliamentary Health Select Committee to hold an inquiry. We’re delighted they agreed it needed scrutiny and went ahead with an evidence session last week. They heard from our GP, Dr Lu Hiam, who told them about the experiences of our patients like Semira, who are too scared to see their doctor, even when seriously ill or heavily pregnant. Lu told the Committee:

“Just this morning someone who was eight weeks pregnant was on the phone to us in tears, saying she was too scared to go to a GP, she was too scared to go to an antenatal clinic.

“And in one extreme circumstance we had a woman present to us in labour.”

The evidence session is the first time the deal has received any real scrutiny, or that the impact on people’s lives and health has been properly looked at. The Committee is a cross-party panel of MPs chaired by Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative GP, and includes many doctors. They had the same reaction to the deal that any doctor we’ve talked to: concern and disbelief.

Dr Paul Williams, a Labour MP and a GP in Stockton, came out strongly against the ongoing breaches in patient confidentiality:

“Patients should give information to health services safe in the knowledge that it will be protected.

“We’ve seen today that this confidentiality is being breached on an industrial scale.

“Doctors don’t want to see this happening, and we’ve heard heartbreaking stories today of harm being done to patients.”

We welcomed the opportunity to shed light on such a critical issue for some of our most marginalised patients. The evidence session showed that doctors and nurses have a voice and the ability to challenge damaging Government policies which threaten everyone’s right to healthcare.

We’ll keep on working with healthcare professionals in Government and across the country to fight for a safe and confidential NHS. For now, along with the many #StopSharing supporters and partners, we eagerly await the Committee’s report. We hope that its recommendations will reflect the concerns we shared and tackle this nasty deal head on.

Sign the petition telling the NHS to #StopSharing private patient information for immigration enforcement.

Read the briefing from DoTW and the National Aids Trust on the data-sharing agreement Briefing_MOUwithHO_DOTW_NAT_2017_(3).


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