THE NHS should immediately stop sharing patient information with the Home Office that is used to identify suspected illegal immigrants, MPs and health campaigners urged today.
NHS Digital allows the Home Office to make requests to cross-reference “non-clinical” details such as names and addresses.
Campaigners warn the deal means some non-registered migrants are avoiding seeking medical attention in case they are detained and deported.
Information can be requested in relation to those who have failed to comply with reporting restrictions, absconded from immigration control, escaped from detention, exceeded their time limit to stay in Britain or sought to obtain leave to remain by deception.
Under the agreement, the government can only request data when the person is not in contact with authorities and “other reasonable and appropriate efforts to locate them have failed.”
The Home Office made 1,775 requests for non-clinical data from September to November. Details were traced in 1,355 cases, there was no trace in 330 and 90 requests were turned down.
NHS Digital can refuse a request if it believes it is not in the public interest.
Doctors for the NHS spokesman Alan Taman said that the “conflation of purpose” between the health service and the Home Office “runs to a sinister agenda.”
He said: “Health records should be used for the benefits of patients, not to facilitate tracking them down when they do not face any criminal charges.
“Yet they are being treated as criminals. The NHS was set up as the caring hands of our society, not its judging eyes.”
A memorandum of understanding published last year set out how information can be shared to trace those in the country unlawfully.
But the Commons health committee claimed there had been “inadequate consultation” before the memorandum was finalised, saying there were “serious concerns” over patient respect and confidentiality.
Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston, Tory MP for Totnes, has written to NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson to request that the body withdraws from the memorandum of understanding while a review is carried out.
An NHS Digital spokeswoman said the body would consider the letter “carefully” and “respond fully in due course.”
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