Government faces legal challenge over data agreement that may put “migrants at risk”BMJ 2017; 359 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5212 (Published 09 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5212
A charity has launched a legal challenge to the data sharing agreement between the Home Office, Department of Health, and the NHS, which it says puts immigrants’ healthcare at risk by deterring them from seeking care.
The agreement, signed in January, enables the Home Office to access data such as a patient’s home address. The Migrants’ Rights Network says that the agreement was written in secret, without consultation with NHS staff, medical organisations, or the public.
The network says that the agreement is “unethical and unlawful” because it violates patients’ confidentiality, discriminates against non-British patients, and will leave patients afraid to seek medical care.
Fizza Qureshi, director of the network, said that immigration enforcement was creeping into public services.
She said, “Health professionals should not have to be forced to act as immigration officers or to have to breach patient confidentiality. We want the NHS to live up to its founding principles, to be a place of help and support for those who need it regardless of their immigration status.”
In its submission to the High Court the network argues that the agreement violates a patient’s right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.
Lara ten Caten, lawyer for the human rights organisation Liberty, which is supporting the charity in its legal fight, described the agreement as “toxic.” She said, “This case is an important step forward in the fight to dismantle this government’s ‘hostile environment’ regime, which has seen the tentacles of immigration enforcement reach into our schools and hospitals, turned trusted public servants into border guards, and spread racial profiling, suspicion, and fear into every corner of society.”
The network has launched a public appeal for funds to help it in its challenge through the crowdfunding site CrowdJustice .
Kingsley Manning, former chair of NHS Digital, is supporting the network’s fight. He said, “To serve patients the NHS is critically dependent on the citizens’ willingness to trust it with their most sensitive, personal data. The lack of transparency in the decision to share any patient data between the NHS and the Home Office threatens that trust and therefore the integrity of the NHS as a safe haven for personal data.”
The government said that no clinical data were shared and that it only requested personal data if all other attempts to locate individuals had failed.