MPs repeat demand for an end to NHS Digital sharing patient data - Doctors of the World and NAT joint statement
The House of Commons Health & Social Care Committee has, for a second time, called on NHS Digital to immediately stop sharing patient details with the immigration authorities. Expressing deep concern about the Government’s approach to sharing confidential patient information, a report released by the Committee on 15 April stated: ‘we believe that patients’ addresses, collected for the purposes of health and social care, should continue to be regarded as confidential.’
The report also states the Committee’s lack of confidence in the leadership of NHS Digital, citing the failure of NHS Digital to act independently of Government and its disregard for the underlying ethical implications of this data-sharing.
Currently, the Home Office receives information about patients from NHS Digital, the body charged with safeguarding patient data. The data is used to trace migrants, which creates a climate of fear where vulnerable people – including pregnant women and those who have been trafficked – are too afraid to access healthcare.
DOTW (Doctors of the World) UK and NAT (National AIDS Trust) have been campaigning for an end to this practice since it came to light in 2014. Both charities gave evidence in the Health & Social Care Committee’s initial hearing on the issue.
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. There is nothing to be said for this practice, which deters people from accessing healthcare.
“Data sharing should have been stopped when the Health & Social Care Committee first called for it, and it certainly should stop now they have, for a second time, demanded an end to this short-sighted and unethical practice.”
Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes at DOTW, said: “In our clinic, day in day out, we see the incredibly harmful impact the data-sharing deal has on our patients. It has reached a point where people do not want to give the NHS their contact information out of pure fear. 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”.
“Doctors of the World UK stand with the Health Select and Social Care Committee in opposing this dangerous information-sharing deal between NHS Digital and the Home Office, and are thrilled the Committee has taken such a strong stance. This view is also shared by the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs. As a healthcare charity, we believe in the right to healthcare for all. Yet this immoral deal works to scare some of the most vulnerable people in society from seeing a doctor.”
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