By Shyamantha Asokan

For most people, filling out a form at your local doctor's surgery or hospital is no big deal. You just tick a few boxes and think nothing more of it.

But for some, it can be an anxiety-ridden experience that puts people off seeing a doctor completely – even if they urgently need an antenatal check-up or a test to check for breast cancer.

Many NHS hospitals ask people to fill out this form before their appointment, which explains that a hospital may share a patient’s personal details with the Home Office, the government department that oversees immigration. The Home Office can then use this information to find and deport undocumented migrants.

This pre-attendance form is part of a government pack for NHS surgeries and hospitals.

Doctors of the World believes healthcare and immigration are separate issues, and we are against the Home Office using surgeries and hospitals as avenues to track down undocumented migrants. The Home Office should never use or retain information from NHS patients’ records to carry out immigration control.

We also believe such forms should not be sent to patients before they have come to hospital and before the urgency of their medical issue has been assessed.

At our clinics across London, we see the direct impact that this data-sharing has on people’s lives. Earlier this year we met Patricia, a Ugandan woman who was almost six months pregnant and hadn’t had any antenatal care at all. 

Patricia, an undocumented migrant, had been missing her scans and midwife appointments because she was scared off by the pre-attendance form. "I feel trapped,” she said at the time. “I need to go to the hospital but I can't because I feel my information might not be confidential."

Patricia eventually summed up the courage to go to her appointments, but others simply stay away. In January, a woman even arrived at our east London clinic in labour. She hadn’t had any ante-natal care at all.

The UK government and NHS Digital, the NHS body that shares patient information, has this year published a deal that further expands their data-sharing. Doctors of the World’s #StopSharing campaign calls for an end to this unethical deal, and you can support the campaign by signing our petition.

It also emerged this week that Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London had for several months issued a form that asked pregnant women to state if they were “economic migrants”. The hospital had used this form for two years, up until last month, Buzzfeed reported.

"This shows the chaos behind the Department of Health's attempts to identify and charge overseas patients. These forms aren't standardised across all hospitals, even though they ask for sensitive information such as immigration status,” Lucy Jones, Doctors of the World’s head of UK programmes, told Buzzfeed.

"In the end, it's the most vulnerable patients who suffer.”

Please support our #StopSharing campaign by signing our petition and downloading our toolkit for GP surgeries.