Government to revise memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the DHSC

Responding to the government’s announcement this afternoon that the Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, said: “This is a positive step which recognises our widespread concerns regarding the memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care regarding the sharing of confidential NHS data for immigration purposes.

“The relationship between doctor and patient is based on a foundation of confidentiality and trust, and if this breaks down, it not only damages this individual relationship, but also is likely to have knock-on effects on the healthcare seeking behaviour of the public at large.

“We have been clear for a long time that confidential patient data, including names and addresses, should only be shared in matters relating to a ‘serious crime’, a threshold which most immigration offences are unlikely to meet. We are pleased to hear the government confirm today that this high bar for disclosing personal NHS data will apply to the MoU with immediate effect.

“Given this commitment from the government today, we expect this to set a clear threshold on how confidential NHS data is treated across the board. We look forward to see the details of the revised MoU, as outlined today in Parliament.”

Sarah Wilkinson, chief executive at NHS Digital, said: “We welcome the Home Office’s response to the concerns expressed by the Health Select Committee and its willingness to adapt its tracing requests to better align with established codes of practice within the clinical community.

“The narrowing of the tracing service to only those individuals convicted of more serious criminal offences, or who represent a risk to public security, circumvents the difficulties which have arisen as a result of conflicts between existing legislation and case law and the long-established Codes of Confidentiality of the GMC and various Colleges.

“We understand the Home Office will limit its requests immediately. Likewise, we will immediately only process requests which meet these revised criteria.

“As soon as is practically possible, we will amend the Memorandum of Understanding between ourselves, the Home Office and the Department and Health and Social Care which describes this tracing service, and publish the updated version openly.”

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