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Migrant rights campaign group granted legal challenge over NHS/Home Office data sharing

A HIGH Court judge allowed a legal challenge today to an information-sharing agreement that allows immigrants’ personal data to be sent to the Home Office by healthcare providers.

The Migrants Rights Network (MRN) was granted a judicial review of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Home Office and the Department of Health that allows NHS Digital to disclose the personal data of migrants suspected of immigration offences.

They submit that the MoU “interferes with the privacy and data protection rights of migrants and discriminates against vulnerable groups of people.”

MRN also says that the arrangement “undermines the public interest in doctor-patient confidentiality and deters migrants from registering for healthcare services.”

Guy Vassall-Adams QC, for MRN, told the court that Public Health England (PHE) had expressed concern of the impact both on immigrants’ “own health and on public health generally” and pointed to the “deterrent effect” shown by the witness statements of doctors “working on the frontline.”

MRN was initially refused permission to challenge the MoU on the grounds that PHE had been asked to conduct a review of the arrangement, which is due to conclude in January 2019.

But MRN said that there was “no guarantee” it would take place, there was no obligation for the NHS to follow any recommendations made and that the delay was too long in light of the “ongoing fundamental human rights breaches” caused by the MoU.

In written submissions, the government departments claim that the information shared was simply “low level administrative data.”

But Mr Vassall-Adams said: “If you are a trafficked woman who is still living with the man who forced you into this country … your home address is not just mere ‘administrative data.’ It is a life or death issue whether that gets to the Home Office.”

In a statement after the hearing, MRN said: “We're delighted at the judge's decision and look forward to taking the challenge forward.”

MRN liability for costs if it loses the challenge were also capped at £15,000, meaning the organisation needs a further £4,000 to meet the cost of the action.

Anyone who wishes to donate to the case can do so at www.crowdjustice.com/case/stopnhsdatasharing

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