This site is intended for health professionals only

How is the Home Office using your patients’ data?

by Valeria Fiore
8 March 2018

Share this article

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has expressed concern over the use of patients’ data held at GP practices for immigration purposes.

The College is concerned about the existence of an agreement allowing the Home Office to access patient’s data for immigration purposes, which could deteriorate patients trust into general practice.    

In a letter sent on 7 March to NHS Digital CEO Sarah Wilkinson, RCGP chair professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that patients decide to share their personal information because they believe it is going to remain confidential.

She wrote: ‘This principle is fundamental to the trust which exists between doctors and patients’.

Instead, she said that information related to immigration could be accessed ‘via court order’.

Prof Stokes-Lampard added: ‘We recognise that the information shared as a result of the MOU is considered to be non-clinical, but any information, even names and addresses, are given by patients in good faith and with the understanding that this remains confidential.’

She concluded her letter by saying that the RCGP is ‘very concerned by the decision to reject calls for the suspension of the MOU’ and would like to meet with NHS Digital soon to further discuss the issue.

Last week, the Government said that the Home Office will continue to access patient-data held at GP practices, turning a deaf hear to the demands to block it from continuing to do so.   

The Home Office can access non-clinical patients’ data under the current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), an agreement it has made with NHS Digital and the Department of Health which allows it to track those who are in breach of immigration rules.

But last month, the Health Committee had recommended that NHS Digital interrupt this agreement as ‘data-sharing is taking place in a manner which is incompatible both with the guidance on confidentiality given by the GMC and the NHS Code of Confidentiality’.

The Health Committee feared that this agreement might keep ill patients away from practices, as they might expect repercussions from the Home Office.