UPDATE: In November 2018 the NHS Digital agreed to withdraw from patient information-sharing agreement with the Home Office following legal action taken by Migrants’ Rights Network and Liberty.
However, later in a statement later that day the Home Office said it would “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.”
We welcome this commitment to only share patient information in the case of serious crime, and will continue campaign to ensure any new agreement meets the medical ethics standards set out by the General Medical Council.
THE CAMPAIGN: In April 2017, we launched our #StopSharing campaign which called on the Home Office to stop sharing NHS patient records with the Home Office to support immigration enforcement work. The campaign saw a van spoofing Theresa May’s “go home” vans drive though Westminster and Whitehall as doctors, nurses and midwives campaigning outside the Home Office.
In 2018, after 71,000 people joined the campaign and signed a petition calling on Jeremy Hunt to put an end to data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office, the Government announced it was scrapping the dangerous deal.
Medical bodies, doctors and MPs had slammed the deal, calling on NHS Digital to #StopSharing patient information:
CHAIR, DR SARAH WOLLASTON MP:
‘NHS Digital are an organisation that the public need to have absolute confidence will respect and understand the ethical principles behind data-sharing [and they] have not shown us at all that this is part of what [they] are considering’.
BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION:
“We know this agreement is already having a real effect on patients – and in turn their relationship with doctors. [The BMA] strongly back calls for NHS Digital to immediately cease use of the MoU” (Dr John Chisholm, BMA ethics committee chair) .
After thousands of us signed the petition, emailed, tweeted and called Jeremy Hunt and chipped in for hard hitting ad vans – the government announced it was scrapping the dangerous data sharing deal between the NHS and the Home Office!
Stop making our NHS doctors into border guards.
Fear should never be a reason not to see a doctor but the UK Government has arranged a deal between NHS Digital, the body charged with safeguarding NHS patient records, that allows the Home Office to access vulnerable patients’ information.
IMPACT ON DOCTORS
Doctors are subject to strict confidentiality rules, and know how important it is that their patients trust them. Yet behind their back, NHS Digital is sharing their patients’ information with the Home Office. Doctors should NOT have to tell patients that their information might be used by the Home Office to track them down at their home address. Confidentiality is compromised and doctors are being forced into being border guards. Medical bodies and doctorshave slammed the deal, calling on NHS Digital to STOP breaking patient confidentiality.
IMPACT ON PATIENTS
Patients now have a well-founded fear that going to a GP could lead to them being tracked down by the Home Office and put into immigration detention centres. Individuals being targeted by the Home Office include people who have been trafficked to the UK and victims of torture . Doctors of the World UK’s clinics regularly see pregnant women worried that they will be arrested if the go to antenatal appointments and people with serious medical conditions who are too scared to register with a GP.
OUTRAGE FROM MEDICAL BODIES AND MPS
Medical bodies, doctors and MPs have slammed the deal, calling to NHS Digital to #StopSharing patient information immediately:
BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: “We know this agreement is already having a real effect on patients – and in turn their relationship with doctors. [The BMA] strongly back calls for NHS Digital to immediately cease use of the MoU” (Dr John Chisholm, BMA ethics committee chair).
THE ROYAL COLLAGE OF GPS: “GPs and other health professionals have a duty to deliver care to patients, regardless of their individual circumstances. This care is provided on the mutual understanding that the information our patients share with us remains confidential… Any process that undermines this trust will both deteriorate the doctor-patient relationship, and deter vulnerable people from seeking medical assistance when they need it. [The Royal College of GPs is] very concerned by the decision to reject calls for the suspension of the MOU”(Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of RCGP Council).
COMMONS HEALTH SELECT COMMITTEE:
CHAIR, DR SARAH WOLLASTON MP: ‘NHS Digital are an organisation that the public need to have absolute confidence will respect and understand the ethical principles behind data-sharing [and they] have not shown us at all that this is part of what [they] are considering’.
DR PAUL WILLIAMS, MP FOR STOCKTON SOUTH AND A PRACTICING GP, questioned“what advice would you give to clinicians about what they should inform their patients so that this information is classed “with consent”?’
LUCIANA BERGER, THE MP FOR LIVERPOOL, WAVERTREE urged NHS Digital to reconsider, calling the deal ‘a matter of life and death’ for an extremely marginalised and vulnerable patient group.
When signing the petition, please indicate if you are a healthcare professional with the prefix Dr / Nurse / Midwife / other.
Please contact Anna Miller on AMiller@doctorsoftheworld.org.
GMC confidentiality guidance (January 2017) https://www.gmc-uk.org/-/media/documents/confidentiality-good-practice-in-handling-patient-information—english-0417_pdf-70080105.pdf
British Medical Association ‘BMA responds to Dr Sarah Wollaston’s letter to NHS Digital calling for end to memorandum of understanding with Home Office over patient data’ (February 2018), https://www.bma.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/2018/january/bma-responds-to-dr-sarah-wollaston-letter-to-nhs-digital-on-mou-with-home-office
Royal College of GPs ‘RCGP condemns NHS Digital decision to ignore recommendations to suspend MOU with Home Office’ (March 2018), http://www.rcgp.org.uk/about-us/news/2018/march/rcgp-condemns-nhs-digital-decision-to-ignore-recommendations-to-suspend-mou-with-home-office.aspx