NHS criticised over data sharing with Home Office, putting individuals’ health at risk.
A conservative MP and the NHS chiefs have clashed over the sharing of patient data that is used to track illegal immigrants.
The NHS has been condemned for refusing to stop sharing patient data with the Home Office, to help track down illegal immigrants.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Head of the Commons Health Select Committee, argued that NHS Digital was becoming increasingly isolated on the issue and not aware of its damaging effects. Earlier in the year, health experts had said many migrants who needed healthcare were too scared to come forward in case they were deported.
Last year a memorandum of understanding was published, which allows non-clinical data held by health bodies such as personal information to be shared. The aim of this is to trace those residents that are believed to be living in the country illegally. However, in the past MPs have been told that patient confidentiality is allowed to be breached in the case of serious crimes, such as rape or murder however not for immigration offences.
“You do not have a legal obligation – you have a legal power to share this. But it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. You are an organisation that the public need to have absolute confidence will respect and understand the ethical principles behind data sharing,” Wollaston said. “You have not shown us, at all, that this is part of what you are considering. It’s an entirely process driven approach that you’re taking in this organisation. It’s simply not good enough.”
In response to Wollaston’s comments, NHS Digital admitted that the organisation had not looked into the ethical side of things before the memorandum was brought in.
Noel Gordon, Chairman of NHS Digital, said: “I think we take into account and hold incredibly high regard for the public’s belief that the NHS holds their data confidentiality. I totally believe that. I believe we’ve built an organisation in NHS Digital that places that principle at the absolute highest.”