The Department of Health and NHS Digital signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Home Office in January 2017, requiring NHS Digital to pass patient information onto the Home Office to track down and arrest undocumented migrants. This arrangement compromised doctor-patient confidentiality. The Government justified this because of the public interest of ‘maintaining effective immigration control’.
Many doctors find data sharing ethically questionable. The GMC have said the Government should consider the public interest in maintaining a confidential health service. The RCGP were also against the data sharing agreement. There was no consultation with the public or clinicians before the MOU came into effect. No impact assessment was done.
As well as violating doctor-patient confidentiality, and putting clinicians in a difficult ethical position, this data sharing agreement deterred those in vulnerable situations from accessing healthcare. It also threatened public health through lack of early detection and treatment of communicable diseases, and the NHS more widely.
After wide condemnation, this policy has changed but for some patients, fear and distrust remain.
Make sure patients know that their personal information is safe.
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