Patient safety

10.05.18

Home Office will no longer use NHS data to track down illegal immigrants

The government will stop using patient’s personal data to track down illegal immigrants, it has announced today.

The Home Office retreated from the controversial plans, where names known to immigration authorities could be traced against health records to find current address and contact details.

MPs, leading charities and experts claimed that by using NHS records to locate overstayers and those living in the country by illegal means could prevent immigrants from using the health services in the future, putting lives at risk.

In future use, anti-immigration forces will only be able to trace migrants through NHS systems when they are being considered for deportation for serious crimes.

The U-turn comes after accepting an amendment tabled by Labour MP Paul Williams and Health Committee chair Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who has called for the government to remove these plans since January. During evidence heard by the committee, for example, one migrant woman died after not seeking treatment for a persistent cough.

In an announcement to parliament yesterday, minister for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Margot James, said: “The government has reflected further on concerns put forwards and as a result, and with immediate effect, the data-sharing arrangements between the Home Office and the NHS have been amended.

“The bar for sharing data will now be set significantly higher. No longer will the names of overstayers and illegal entrants be sought against health service records to find current address details.”

James added that the memorandum of understanding (MoU), used to track illegal migrants against patient data, is suspended.

On twitter Dr Wollaston said she was “delighted” of the removal of the plans.

Deborah Gold, chief executive of the National Aids Trust, said: “We are delighted that at last this shameful sharing of confidential patient information with the Home Office is to end. Not only did it breach every bit of guidance on confidentiality within the NHS, it also deterred people from essential healthcare putting both individual and public health at risk.

“We especially want to thank the Health and Social Care Committee for their inquiry and report and the chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, for tabling the successful amendment. We now call on NHS Digital to suspend the current MoU immediately – the view of government and Parliament is clear. We want our confidential health service back.”

Image: George Olcott, Flickr

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