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Passing information to immigration officials undermines patient confidence, MPs hear

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 23 January 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k296
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

NHS Digital brands itself as the guardian of patient data, but its role in passing information to the Home Office is not compatible with maintaining confidentiality, reports Jacqui Wise

Confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship is being undermined and seriously ill people are being deterred from seeking medical treatment for fear of being deported as a result of NHS Digital giving information to the immigration authorities, MPs have been told.

The health select committee, on 16 January, also heard that NHS Digital, the government agency that collects and “guards” patient data, is disclosing confidential patient information on too low a threshold or without appropriate safeguards in place.

The health select committee was taking evidence on the effect of the memorandum of understanding, which came into force on 1 January 2017.1 This agreement formalised arrangements for the Home Office to ask for non-clinical information from NHS Digital for the purposes of tracing “immigration offenders and vulnerable people who may be at risk.”

Atmosphere of fear

In June last year the BMA’s annual representative meeting called for the NHS to stop handing over non-clinical details of patients to the Home Office without consent of patients and knowledge of their GP.2

Lucinda Hiam, a GP at Doctors of the World, which provides treatment for …

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