NHS Digital and doctors’ leaders have welcomed the government’s decision to revise memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the DHS – inferring that doctors will not be obliged to share patients’ confidential NHS data with the Home Office in immigration cases, except in the investigation of ‘serious crime’ or where the individual presents a risk to public security
During debates on the Data Protection Bill, MP Margot James highlighted the ‘significant and legitimate concerns about the operation of the memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital and the Home Office’ held by the Health and Social Care Committee.She said that the Select Committee has argued for the suspension of the MOU, which currently allows the sharing of non-clinical information, principally address information, for immigration purposes, pending the outcome of a review into its impact by Public Health England.”The aim is to narrow the MOU’s scope, so that it only facilitates the exchange of personal data in cases involving serious criminality,” she said.
She went on to confirm that the government had considered the Select Committee’s concerns and announced that, with immediate effect, data sharing arrangements between the Home Office and the NHS have been amended.
“This is a new step and it supersedes the position set out in previous correspondence between the Home Office, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Select Committee,” she said.
Both NHS Digital and doctors’ leaders have welcomed the move.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We are extremely pleased and relieved that the Government has suspended the data-sharing agreement that has been in place with NHS Digital – it is a huge victory for common sense, for civil rights and for high-quality patient care.
“This is what is best for our patients, and it is what is best for doctors, who are trusted to keep our patients’ data safe but have recently felt as if the relationship we have with our patients has been compromised.
“The College has campaigned hard on this issue, and in solidarity with the BMA, the Health Select Committee, and others – and we are very grateful to everyone who has supported our campaign.
“It is now important that we work to re-establish any trust that may have been lost around how NHS data is used – and that any future data-sharing agreements that involve NHS data are properly risk-assessed and frontline clinicians consulted before they are finalised, so that we don’t ever find ourselves in a similar situation again.”
This is the College’s response to the news that an agreement between the Home Office, Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England, allowing for data relating to people suspected of immigration offences to be shared between the organisations, has been suspended.
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.”