NHS Digital has confirmed its withdrawal from an agreement to give the Home Office access to confidential data for immigration enforcement, following a legal challenge by campaigners.
The Migrants’ Rights Network took legal action with Liberty and Matrix chambers because the data-sharing arrangement between the Home Office and the Department of Health threatened human rights and civil liberties.
Legal Action Focused On the Right To Privacy and Discrimination
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They argued that the arrangement violate patients’ right to privacy under the Human Rights Act 1998, discriminated against non-British patients, it meant unwell people would not seek medical attention out of fear and did not pass the considerable public interest test required to breach the doctor-patient relationship.
Last year NHS Digital shared 3000 patients details with the Home Office to check up on their immigration status, as part of the hostile environment. Following widespread criticism and pressure from campaigners, in May, the government announced it would suspend the arrangement, but it would remain in place.
In 2016 the Home Office made over 8,127 requests for information, which led to 5,854 people being traced by immigration teams.
‘Big’ Victory For Human Rights Against Hostile Environment
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NHS Digital has now confirmed that it has completely withdrawn from the data-sharing deal in what’s been described a ‘big victory for campaigners‘
Rita Chadha, Director of Migrants’ Rights Network, said,“On the 70th Anniversary of the NHS it is absolutely vital that our great British institutions uphold the best British values. The right to privacy and the access to health care, is a right that many of us take for granted, sadly this has not been the case of health services for migrants.
“We are delighted that the Government is starting to dismantle the hostile environment by conceding that deterring people from accessing health services is cruel, inhumane and ultimately more costly.”
Lara Ten Caten, lawyer for Liberty, who were integral to the legal challenge said, “This secret data-sharing deal undermined every principle our health service is built on, showing contempt for confidentiality and forcing people to choose between self-medicating and detention and possible deportation.”
This triumph shows that if we stand up to xenophobic policies, we can and will dismantle them.
“This stand-down by the government is a huge victory for everyone who believes we should be able to access healthcare safely – and particularly for doctors and nurses who had become complicit in the Government’s hostile environment against their will. This triumph shows that if we stand up to xenophobic policies, we can and will dismantle them.”
Doctors of the World, who have fought against the government policy to use information, collected by NHS staff in NHS services, to support immigration enforcement through their #stopsharing campaign, said.
We see people too frightened to see a doctor or midwife because they are scared it could lead to them being reported to the Home Office.
“At Doctors Of The World clinics we see people too frightened to see a doctor or midwife because they are scared it could lead to them being reported to the Home Office, and then returned to an unsafe country. This includes people who have fled war, conflict, persecution or brutal traffickers, people who are looking to the UK for protection. Now they can go to a GP safe in the knowledge that confidentiality will be respected.”
This year 70,000 docs + patients signed our petition to #StopSharing patient information w/ the @ukhomeoffice. In May, the deal was suspended. TODAY news the deal will be WITHDRAWN after legal action by @libertyhq and @migrants_rights Read our statement: https://t.co/mtkXUomzUe
— Doctors of the World (@DOTW_UK) November 12, 2018
Under the arrangement, the Home Office could request ‘non-clinical’ information held by NHS Digital, including forename, middle names, surname, date of birth, gender, last known address, and contact details of their primary care service.
The British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs had previously expressed ‘deep concern’ about the Government’s approach to sharing confidential patient information.