NHS Digital must immediately stop sharing patients’ addresses with immigration officials, it’s been told in a scathing letter by the Commons health select committee.
The letter, from committee chair Sarah Wollaston, claims the data collection agency ‘had not taken account of the public interest in maintaining a confidential medical service’ when deciding to share data.
It had ‘comprehensively ignored’ a warning from PHE (Public Health England) and had even admitted its own process for considering requests to be ‘haphazard’.
A review of the evidence for its decision by PHE looked ‘little more than window-dressing’ to the committee.
‘Witnesses at our hearing provided accounts of individuals already being deterred from seeking help and NHS Digital needs to take a precautionary approach,’ the letter adds.
Dr Wollaston’s intervention comes after a committee hearing into a memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health came to light last year.
Since then, thousands of patients’ addresses have been passed to immigration officials and only a tiny fraction declined.
Concerns about the memorandum has sparked concerns from doctors, public health officials and the national data guardian, the committee heard earlier this month.
Health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy, defending the memorandum, said that NHS Digital had established that sharing information with immigration officials was ‘a lawful thing to do’.
BMA medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm strongly backed Dr Wollaston’s calls for NHS Digital to halt its use of the memorandum and carry out a thorough review of how it discloses NHS data.