Simon Collins, HIV i-Base
The medical charity Doctors of the World has produced a toolkit for healthcare professionals who want their GP practices to be safe places for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
The resource is based on six steps.
- Make sure patients know they don’t need to give a personal address
- Display a poster declaring your surgery a safe space
- Never ask to see a passport, visa or identity document
- Don’t ask for proof of address documents
- Make sure frontline staff know the rules
- Check your registration policy
The “Safe Surgeries” toolkit, is part of a campaign to give GPs and other heath workers practical methods to keep their patients’ addresses off NHS records.
The UK government and NHS Digital, the NHS body that stores patient information, made a deal in January to give the Home Office easier access to patient information. This allows immigration officials to use NHS patients’ personal details, such as their addresses, to track down, arrest and deport undocumented migrants.
According to the Department of Health, the Home Office made 8,127 requests for data in the first 11 months of 2016. This led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration enforcement teams.
Medical professionals were not consulted about the deal and many oppose it.
The toolkit will empower medical professional to be able to make their clinics places where everyone, whatever their social or immigration status, feels able to seek the healthcare they need. It includes:
- Ways to register patients by using the address of the practice or a local organisation, instead of their home address.
- A poster for surgery reception areas that informs patients that they do not have to give their home address.
- Instructions to frontline staff to not ask for a passport or proof of ID when registering patients.
People in urgent need of care, including people living with HIV, pregnant women and people with serious cancer, can become too scared to see a doctor for fear that their details will be passed on.
UK clinics (including the London Doctors of the World clinic in Bethnal Green) see people who have been trafficked, victims of torture and parents with children who are too afraid to get healthcare they desperately need.
The charity recently helped a woman who came to their clinic whilst in labour after not having any antenatal care because she was too afraid to access it.
Dr Miriam Beeks, a GP in Lower Clapton Group Practice in east London said: Most doctors have no idea about the data sharing agreement. It’s extraordinary that doctors have not been asked about this – there has just been some sort of ministerial dictum. How could they think that doctors would not object to this? Doctors should feel confident about standing against this. We are backed up by both NHS and GMC confidentiality rules – our interactions with our patients are confidential. That’s one of the basic human rights of the patient.”
Many doctors hate the idea that they are being used as immigration officers and see healthcare as a basic human right.
HIV i-Base has had referrals from HIV positive people who have been too scared to engage with HIV clinics even though the NHS provides free testing, monitoring and HIV treatment irrespective of UK residency status.
This commonly leads to very late engagement with care.
References and links:
- Doctors of the World. Take action against the home office accessing NHS data!
- Download the toolkit.
For further information contact:
Nick Harvey (0203 5357956) and firstname.lastname@example.org