NHS Digital confirms end of patient data sharing with Home Office


NHS Digital has confirmed it has stopped a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which saw the organisation sharing non-clinical information with the Home Office.

The memoradum, which came into effect in January 2017, allowed the Home Office to gain access to patient data – including non-clinical information – for the purpose of tracing immigration offenders and vulnerable people.

It meant NHS Digital could be asked to hand over information such as a patient’s date of birth or last known address to the Home Office.

The agreement has been previously criticised by the Health and Social Care Committee, which launched an inquiry into it.

The committee called for the agreement to be suspended and in May 2018, Margot James – a minister at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – confirmed the agreement had been revised.

NHS Digital has now confirmed to Digital Health News that it has terminated the agreement until the results of a consultation are published.

An NHS Digital spokesperson said: “During discussions in the House of Commons on the Data Protection Act, on 9 May this year, the government committed to a narrowing of the sharing of personal demographic data between NHS Digital and the Home Office to cases involving serious criminality only.

“NHS Digital has received a revised narrowed request from the Home Office and is discussing this request with them.

“We will, as we have previously committed, consult widely before concluding whether this new data sharing request is in the public interest. This consultation will be open: representations received and judgements made will be shared publicly.

“The new request calls upon a different legal basis for data sharing which will require a materially different MOU.

Given this, and the expectation that it will take several more months to conclude consultation and drafting, and our recognition that multiple stakeholder communities are anxious to ensure that the agreement of 9 May is respected, we have formally closed-out our participation in the exiting MOU, which has been paused since May.

“If our assessment of the new request, post consultation, is that it is in the public interest to share the requested data, then we will sign a new MOU with the Home Office.”

The news has been welcomed by the Migrants’ Rights Network which lodged a legal complaint against the MOU.

Rita Chadha, interim director of the Network, said: “The right to privacy and the access to healthcare 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.”

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