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Doctors and MPs have come together to voice their concerns about the government’s failure to take action on an NHS policy which allows the Home Office to snoop on patients.
The Data Sharing Policy, which allows Home Office officials to access patient records if they feel they are in breach of immigration regulations, is being described by many as a breach of privacy and a spur to further the alienation of immigrants living in the UK.
This was demonstrated back in January when a hearing was held to discuss the consequences of the system, in which it was revealed that one domestic worker passed away as a result of being too worried to visit the doctors about her condition.
MPs have called on NHS Digital, the body responsible for storing and releasing patient data, to immediately suspend their data sharing, with spokesperson Sarah Wollaston calling the practice “entirely inappropriate.”
“This behaviour calls into question NHS Digital’s ability to robustly act on behalf of patients in the event of other data-sharing requests”, Wollaston stated, “[and this includes] from other government departments in the future.”
The Royal College of GPs has also expressed concern about the policy; releasing a statement which likened the Home Office’s use of patient data to trawling “the yellow pages”.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chairwoman of the institution, went on to discuss the “blatant disregard for the trusted and vital GP-patient relationship” of the Home Office and warned of “alienating highly vulnerable patients.”
These comments, alongside many others, were heard by the Committee for Health & Social Care, who expressed their “serious concerns” about the issue.
NHS Digital responded to this by stating that they would consider the report carefully “tak[ing] into account any new evidence as it becomes available”, however, that they had already “been through a rigorous process to assess the release of demographic data to the Home Office”.
As it stands then, despite mounting pressure from various angles, the Data Sharing Policy will remain in-tact for the time being.
Our immigration lawyers in London had this to say on the matter: “The Government’s intentional ‘hostile environment’ is creating a feeling of separation and distance all over the UK and this is only causing that feeling to strengthen”.