NHS deal ‘turns doctors into immigration officers’

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Nov 10, 2017
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The deal between the NHS and Home Office is accused of violating patient confidentiality

ALAMY

A “secret deal” that allegedly gives Home Office officials access to the confidential medical records of migrants is to be challenged in the High Court.

Lawyers for the Migrants’ Rights Network filed an application for a judicial review of arrangements between Whitehall and NHS officials.

They allege that the deal gives the Home Office access to confidential patient information, which is then used to aid immigration enforcement. According to the campaigners, the deal has been in place since January and was “written in secret, without consulting NHS staff, medical organisations or the public”.

The organisation has started a crowdfunding site to back the legal challenge. The judicial review application is being run by Liberty, the human rights group, which argues that the arrangement is unlawful “because it violates patient confidentiality, discriminates against non-British patients and will leave seriously unwell people fearful of seeking medical care”.

Lara ten Caten, a lawyer at Liberty, described the data-sharing arrangement as toxic. She claimed that it “undermines every principle our health service is built on: it is discriminatory, shows contempt for patient confidentiality and privacy and is putting lives at risk”.

Fizza Qureshi, director of the Migrants’ Rights Network, said that her organisation was “gravely concerned that immigration enforcement is creeping into our public services, especially the NHS”.

She added: “Health professionals should not have to be forced to act as immigration officers, or to have to breach patient confidentiality.”

Kingsley Manning, the former chairman of NHS Digital, the health service’s information body, is supporting the challenge. He said that the “lack of transparency in the decision to share any patient data between the NHS and the Home Office” threatened to damage the trusting relationship between patients and the health service.

Liberty has instructed a team of three barristers at Matrix Chambers in Gray’s Inn, led by Guy Vassall-Adams, QC.

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