NHS Digital lambasted for collusion with Home Office to deport migrants
NHS Digital, the Department of Health and the Home Office have been strongly criticised for entering a memorandum of understanding regarding the former organisation providing details for immigration tracing purposes.
The agreement came to light last year and the Health Committee held a meeting to ascertain the impact, as well as how the agreement came about. Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of the Health Committee, demanded that NHS Digital should withdraw from the memorandum of understanding and stop providing data to the Home Office.
The conclusion was drawn after the committee heard that migrants were avoiding using health services, even when in dire need, for fear that it would lead to deportation. The committee also remarked that NHS Digital had not “fully considered and appropriately taken account of the public interest in maintaining a confidential medical service, or appropriately considered the ethical implications of their decision.”
It also raised concerns that there was not enough consultation before the memorandum was established, with NHS Digital’s own advisory group of the release of data (IGARD) not part of the process to establish whether it was the correct decision.
The letter from Wollaston to Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, was particularly damning in regard to the agreement contravening confidentiality agreements: “This lack of consultation has resulted in a situation where 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. We find that situation unacceptable. The Minister’s inability to respond to our questioning about whether clinicians should be expected to inform their patients that their names and addresses might be shared with the Home Office was telling. So is the fact that NHS Digital does not, so we understand, involve clinicians within the organisation, including its own Caldicott Guardian and Deputy Caldicott Guardian, in decision-making on these requests, in order to protect them from the risk that in so doing they would be acting in conflict with the GMC’s confidentiality guidance”.
The letter also noted that the decision was taken despite Public Health England being consulted on the process, with that organisation noting that it would create a clear risk to public health.
The Conservative government had come to power on the back of promises to be tough on immigration – pledging to cut net migration to 100,000 per year. However, these latest measures have been widely criticised as being a step too far and likely to be detrimental to the most vulnerable individuals.
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