Immigration enforcement in the NHS
In 2017 the UK Government made a formal agreement to use NHS records to track down people whose asylum applications had been refused and undocumented migrants. NHS Digital, the body that holds medical records in England, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Home Office allowing immigration officials to request patients’ non-clinical information (including home address).
Unpaid hospital bills and patient information (including home address) are reported to the Home Office as part of the NHS charging regime, which can result in immigration applications being refused.
As a result, many of our patients are too afraid to share their personal information with the NHS and some avoid seeing a doctor altogether. This includes pregnant women and people with serious illnesses. They fear it will lead to immigration raids at their home, with a risk of being put into detention, separated from family and loved ones, and maybe even returned to an unsafe country.
We have been campaigning to end the sharing of patient information between the NHS and the Home Office since it first came to light in 2014. Our #StopSharing campaign mobilised over 70,000 people and saw doctors, nurses and midwives protesting outside the Home Office.
We have worked with medical bodies, regulators and other charities to demand that data-sharing deal was made public and properly debated. A House of Commons Health & Social Care Select Committee inquiry, which heard evidence from our doctors, called for the data-sharing agreement to be suspended.
In May 2018 the Government announced the agreement would be suspended pending revision. While this U-turn represents a major victory for public health, medical ethics and patient safety, patient fear and mistrust remains, and a number of harmful data sharing practices continue.
We will continue to campaign against the use of NHS records, staff and services in immigration enforcement, and to ensure any new data-sharing agreements meets the medical ethics standards set out by the General Medical Council.