Campaign forces Government U-turn on linking NHS data to immigration service
Simon Collins, HIV i-Base
On 9 May the UK government announced that it would suspend NHS Digital (responsible for collecting patient data) from routinely sharing individual patient data with UK immigration services. This reversal by the government is a significant success for public health. [1, 2]
The decision was made during a parliamentary debate on the Data Protection Bill, by accepting an amendment tabled by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.
Organisations leading the campaign against the policy since 2014 include the National AIDS Trust (NAT), BHIVA, BMA, Doctors of the World (UK) and Liberty.
In an NAT press release, Deborah Gold, Chief Executive said: “We are delighted that at last this shameful sharing of confidential patient information with the Home Office is to end. Not only did it breach every bit of guidance on confidentiality within the NHS, it also deterred people from essential healthcare putting both individual and public health at risk”.
The change in the memorandum of understanding that previously required the NHS to data share confidential records takes immediate effect. However, data-sharing will still be allowed in cases where Home Office are considering deportation due to a serious crime (further details were not provided).
According to an earlier report, Department of Health figures for 2016 showed the Home Office requested medical records for 8,127 patients, leading to 5,854 people being traced by immigration enforcement. 
The successful campaign to overturn government policy is a significant achievement. Further background was reported in an article in the previous issue of HTB. 
The policy has been a community activist focus for many years and was highlighted again at the recent BHIVA conference.
In the panel discussion after an excellent presentation on disparity of health care experienced by refugee and migrant populations in the UK, Yusef Asad, Director of Strategy at NAT, included a case of immigration officials waiting at the hospital for a mother to give birth, so that both the mother and baby could be immediately arrested. Other examples included the common reports of women avoiding maternity care and giving birth at home due to fear of the immigration service. 
It is vitally important that sexual health services continue to be free, including for HIV, and that access should not be undermined by hostile government policies.
- NAT press statement. NHS Digital to end data sharing with the Home Office on immigration offences. (09 May 2018).
- Doctors of the World statement. Government will halt NHS datasharing with home office except for serious crime. (09 May 2018).
- The Guardian. NHS hands over patient records to Home Office for immigration crackdown.
- Trevelion R. Continued demands to stop NHS Digital linking medical records to deportation service. HTB 01 May 2018.
- Asad Y. Refugees, migrants and healthcare access: key issues in the response to HIV, STIs and TB. BHIVA invited lecture 4. 4th Joint BHIVA/BASHH, 17-20 April 2018, Edinburgh.