Continued demands to stop NHS Digital linking medical records to deportation services
Roy Trevelion, HIV i-Base
On 15 April 2018 the National AIDS Trust (NAT) and Doctors of the World (DOTW) UK issued a joint statement that called on NHS Digital (NHSD) to immediately stop sharing confidential patient details with Home Office immigration enforcement. [1, 2]
That same day, the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee called – for the second time – for NHSD to suspend the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that allows immigration tracing by the Home Office. 
Both NAT and DOTW believe the MoU creates a public health risk. It will deter vulnerable migrant groups from seeking antenatal care or urgent care for infectious diseases.
Migrants can include people who have been tortured, or trafficked, people who have serious communicable diseases, people who have vulnerable dependents including children. Migrants should retain the right to access a wide range of NHS services perfectly lawfully.
Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT said: “It is scandalous that our data is being shared and our privacy corroded with less and less justification. As an HIV charity, we understand the importance of treating infectious conditions and limiting the spread of epidemics. When people can’t trust the NHS with their data, that good work is undone and we face a public health risk.”
Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes at DOTW, said: “While confidentiality is in such a precarious state, mothers are not accessing the antenatal care they need, public health is put at risk, and we fear this is only going to get worse.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, says: “NHS Digital’s decision to routinely share information with the Home Office with a lower threshold is entirely inappropriate. It is absolutely crucial that the public have confidence that those at the top of NHS Digital have both an understanding of the ethical principles underpinning confidentiality and the determination to act in the best interest of patients.”
Fear of deportation is just one of a number of barriers for migrants’ accessing healthcare. Others include discrimination, uncertainty over entitlements, and stigma. An understanding of these issues is crucially important for optimal HIV treatment and care. Any practice that deters HIV testing and treatment undermines the aim of eradicating HIV through 90:90:90.
There has been no public consultation on this MoU. No engagement with doctors or patients’ and migrants’ rights groups. And there has been no work to establish potential impacts on patients, NHS staff and public health.
NAT, DOTW and the Commons Health Select Committee all call on NHSD to suspend this MoU until a transparent and public review of its merits has taken place.
- National AIDS Trust. Press release. MPs demand end to NHS Digital sharing patient data Doctors of the World and NAT joint press release. (15 April 2018).
- Doctors of the World UK. Press release. MPs demand end to NHS Digital sharing patient data Doctors of the World and NAT joint press release. (15 April 2018).
- Parliament. Commons Select Committee. NHS Digital failing to uphold patient interest. MoU data sharing report publication-17-19. (15 April 2018).