Health Committee tells NHS Digital in England to stop sharing patient information with Home Office

By agency reporter
February 2, 2018

The Chair of the Health Select Committee, Sarah Wollaston MP, has written to Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital in England, requesting that NHS Digital immediately withdraws from a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Home Office that allows for the sharing of patients’ addresses for immigration tracing purposes.  

The Committee says there was inadequate consultation during the formulation of the memorandum, and a failure to pay due regard to the underlying ethical considerations and potential unintended consequences for public health. This has resulted in a situation where data-sharing is taking place in a manner which is incompatible both with the guidance on confidentiality given by the GMC and the NHS Code of Confidentiality, and which could lead to serious unintentional consequences for both individuals and wider public health. The Committee finds this situation unacceptable.

Chair of the Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said, "We are seriously concerned about the way NHS Digital has approached its duty to respect and promote confidentiality. We call for a halt to the present system of information sharing and a full review of the original MoU with the Home Office. If this does not happen, we intend to hold further public evidence sessions requiring the Chief Executive to provide a very much more convincing case for the continued operation of this MoU than has been presented so far. 

"Whilst we recognise the public interest in assisting on a case by case basis where a serious crime is being investigated, we do not agree with NHS Digital’s assertion that their current arrangements for the purpose of immigration tracing requests constitute case by case data sharing. There has been a failure to appreciate the wider implications of their actions for the individuals concerned, for clinicians, and for wider public health. Their actions not only undermine public confidence in confidentiality but put at risk the efforts to build support for data sharing in other vital areas such as medical research."

Welcoming the news, Lucy Jones of Doctors of the World, which has campaigned against the data sharing, said “Day in day out, we see people in our clinic too afraid to see a doctor, knowing that their home address will be given to the Home Office. We are delighted the Committee heard evidence on the dangerous impact of this data sharing arrangement and, finding this evidence 'very strong', called for the practice to be stopped.”

NHS Digital is the trading name of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which is the national provider of information, data and IT systems for commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care in England.

Read the Committee's letter to NHS Digital here

* Health Select Committee http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/health-committee/

* Doctors of the World UK https://www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk/

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