NHS IT, Records and Data

16.04.18

NHS Digital ‘entirely inappropriate’ in sharing patient data with Home Office

NHS Digital’s decision to share patient information with the Home Office is “entirely inappropriate,” according to the chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.

The comments come following the publicity of the committee’s report into the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Digital regarding tracing immigration offenders.

The committee has said that it is not satisfied that the chair and chief executive of NHS Digital have been sufficiently robust in upholding the interests of patients, understanding the ethical principles underpinning confidentiality or in maintaining the necessary degree of independence from the government.

In January, its MPs wrote to NHS Digital requesting it to suspend its involvement in the MoU and undertake a thorough review of the consequences of sharing addresses with the Home Office for immigration tracing purposes.

This request was rejected by the government and the chair and chief executive of NHS Digital were subsequently questioned by the committee, but its MPs warned that their responses to the “serious concerns” raised in the session were “wholly unsatisfactory.”

The report, ‘MoU on data-sharing between NHS Digital and the Home Office,’ repeats the committee’s call for NHS Digital to suspend its participation in the MoU until the ongoing review of the NHS Code of Confidentiality is complete, which it says should consider the health concerns raised by Public Health England on health-seeking behaviours.

Chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said that there is a “clear ethical principle” that data held for the purposes of health and care should only be shared for law enforcement purposes in the case of serious crime.

“NHS Digital's decision to routinely share information with the Home Office with a lower threshold is entirely inappropriate,” she warned. “This behaviour calls into question NHS Digital’s ability to robustly act on behalf of patients in the event of other data sharing requests including from other government departments in the future.

“It is absolutely crucial that the public have confidence that those at the top of NHS Digital have both an understanding of the ethical principles underpinning confidentiality and the determination to act in the best interests of patients.”

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive of NHS Digital, said: “We will consider the health select committee's report carefully and will take into account any new evidence as it becomes available, but we have been through a rigorous process to assess the release of demographic data to the Home Office.

“This has established that there is a legal basis for the release and has assured us that it is in the public interest to share limited demographic data in very specific circumstances.”

Dr John Chrisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, welcomed the report, warning that the MoU “risks undermining the very foundation of the doctor-patient relationship.”

He added: “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.”

Have you got a story to tell? Would you like to become an NHE columnist? If so, click here

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

national health executive tv

more videos >

latest healthcare news

Councillors fear identity crisis following CCG merger

22/06/2018Councillors fear identity crisis following CCG merger

Members of one of Kent’s leading councils have voiced their concerns against an upcoming merger between CCGs in the area. Cllr Wendy P... more >
Top NHS England boss to leave the organisation

22/06/2018Top NHS England boss to leave the organisation

NHS England’s chief financial officer will leave the post after 11 years. Paul Baumann CBE, who joined NHS London in 2007, and took up... more >
Most urgent primary care services ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’

22/06/2018Most urgent primary care services ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’

Over eight in 10 primary care services are providing good care, despite mounting work force and commissioning pressures, the CQC has said. A... more >

editor's comment

25/09/2017A hotbed of innovation

This edition of NHE comes hot on the heels of this year’s NHS Expo which, once again, proved to be a huge success at Manchester Central. A number of announcements were made during the event, with the health secretary naming the second wave of NHS digital pioneers, or ‘fast followers’, which follow the initial global digital exemplars who were revealed at the same show 12 months earlier.  Jeremy Hunt also stated th... read more >

last word

Hard to be optimistic

Hard to be optimistic

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, warns that we must be realistic about the very real effects of continued underfunding across the health service. It’s now bey... more > more last word articles >

the scalpel's daily blog

The impact of NICE on cardiovascular disease prevention

06/06/2018The impact of NICE on cardiovascular disease prevention

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director Health and Social Care at NICE, looks into what can be done to decrease cardiovascular disease nationally and how to prevent missed opportunities in the future. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for just over a quarter of deaths and affects around 7 million people in the UK. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the scalpel' >

comment

Getting more out of our medicines

20/06/2018Getting more out of our medicines

Paul Chrisp, programme director of medicines and technologies at NICE, describes how the organisation is re-purposing drugs in order to improve p... more >
Under attack

20/06/2018Under attack

One attack against an NHS worker is one too many. But unfortunately, the trend in recent years has been alarmingly upwards, with no part of the N... more >
Lessons from WannaCry

20/06/2018Lessons from WannaCry

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, warns that the UK Government must take seriously the threat of a more soph... more >
A hostile environment

20/06/2018A hostile environment

Dr Terry John, chair of the BMA’s international committee, gives his thoughts on the government’s visa and immigration policy and its... more >

interviews

Duncan Selbie: A step on the journey to population health

24/01/2018Duncan Selbie: A step on the journey to population health

The NHS plays a part in the country’s wellness – but it’s far from being all that matters. Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Pu... more >
Cutting through the fake news

22/11/2017Cutting through the fake news

In an era of so-called ‘fake news’ growing alongside a renewed focus on reducing stigma around mental health, Paul Farmer, chief exec... more >
Tackling infection prevention locally

04/10/2017Tackling infection prevention locally

Dr Emma Burnett, a lecturer and researcher in infection prevention at the University of Dundee’s School of Nursing and Midwifery and a boar... more >
Scan4Safety: benefits across the whole supply chain

02/10/2017Scan4Safety: benefits across the whole supply chain

NHE interviews Gillian Fox, head of eProcurement (Scan4Safety) programme at NHS Supply Chain. How has the Scan4Safety initiative evolved sin... more >

health service focus

View all News