BMA backs call to suspend sharing of patient data with Home Office

By agency reporter
April 17, 2018

The British Medical Association (BMA) has responded to the Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s report on the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on data-sharing between NHS Digital, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the HomeOffice.

 Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, said: “The BMA has been vocal in its opposition to this data sharing arrangement between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, which risks undermining the very foundation of the doctor-patient relationship. We therefore welcome this report, which echoes many of our key concerns over the ill-thought out and potentially destructive agreement that NHS Digital is yet to resolve.

“As stated by the committee, most immigration offences clearly do not meet the high public interest threshold for releasing confidential data, which according to NHS England, the GMC and even NHS Digital’s own guidance, should be reserved for cases which involve ‘serious’ crime.

“We must therefore question NHS Digital’s ability to act as a trusted custodian for the data it holds and its assertation that it prioritises patients’ best interests when handling their data.

“The issue of data-sharing raises a number of ethical issues for doctors, who are bound by principles of confidentiality, so it is quite simply astounding that no professional medical ethicist was approached in the supposed ‘meaningful’ consultation ahead of the MoU’s introduction.  It seems overwhelmingly apparent that NHS Digital has not fully considered, nor appropriately taken account of, the public interest in maintaining a confidential medical service – nor has it appropriately considered the ethical implications of its decision.

“We have already seen the impact that the MoU is having on doctors working on the front line, with just this week a GP in London receiving a letter from the Home Office requesting information about a patient for immigration purposes. This example of a doctor being asked to effectively act as an enforcer for the Home Office is wholly at odds with a doctor’s primary role to promote the best interests of their patients. 

“If the bond of trust between doctor and patient is broken, it risks not only the health of that individual, but can also have serious public health implications if people suffering from infectious conditions avoid seeking medical treatment.

“Further, the agreement and the government’s position that the public cannot have “a reasonable expectation” that their data will not be shared amongst state departments if they are using the NHS, set a dangerous precedent that opens up the possibility of patients’ data being passed on not just in immigration cases, but for other non-health-related purposes.

“The BMA therefore backs the committee’s calls for NHS Digital to suspend the MoU immediately.”

* Read the BMA's evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee here

* More on this story from Ekklesia

* British Medical Association


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