The Government has decided to stop the data-sharing agreement between the NHS and the Home Office, under which patient data in practices was used to track down illegal immigrants.
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport of the United Kingdom Margot James announced in Parliament yesterday (9 May) that they have decided to facilitate the exchange of patients’ data between the two bodies only when ‘serious criminality’ is involved.
She said: ‘The aim is to narrow the scope of the MOU so that it only facilitates the exchange of personal data in cases involving serious criminality.
‘The Government has reflected forward on the concerns put forward by my honourable friend her committee and as a result and with immediate effect, the data sharing arrangement between the NHS and the Home Office have been amended.
‘This is a new step a supersedes the position set up in previous correspondence between the Home office, the department of health and social care and the select committee.’
Months of campaign
The move comes after the health and social care committee first wrote to NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson to ask her to withdraw from the memorandum of understanding, after prominent GPs said that the memorandum could turn general practice in a ‘place of fear’ and put off patients from visiting their practice.
Dr Wollaston, GP and chair of the health and social committee, said: ‘Medical confidentiality lies at the heart of the trust between clinicians and their patients. I am delighted to hear the minister’s words.’
The Government’s decision was welcomed by doctors and GP bodies that had before raised the need to revise the data-sharing agreement.
Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, said: ‘We have been clear for a long time that confidential patient data, including names and addresses, should only be shared in matters relating to a ‘serious crime’, a threshold which most immigration offences are unlikely to meet.
‘We are pleased to hear the government confirm today that this high bar for disclosing personal NHS data will apply to the MoU with immediate effect.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, had previously written to Ms Wilkinson to express her concern around the memorandum, and said that the Government should have stopped using patients’ data like ‘the yellow pages’.