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In line with Theresa May’s plans to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants in Britain, thousands of confidential patient records have been handed over to the Home Office. The Department of Health revealed that the Home Office made 8,127 requests for patient information from the NHS in the first 11 months of 2016. These information requests resulted in 5,854 people being tracked down by immigration enforcement.
The NHS isn’t the only sector being targeted by the Home Office in order to track down potential immigration offenders. There is a similar agreement between the Home Office and the Department of Education which led to the details of 1,500 pupils being shared in order to track down offenders.
The justification by the Department of Health for sharing this information is that it is in the public interest to ensure that public services are protected from excess pressure. These legal powers are part of a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) in the Health and Social Care Act. The MoU states: “The information to be disclosed under this MoU is administrative in nature and consequently falls at the less intrusive end of the privacy spectrum, making disclosure easier to justify as the public interest threshold is lower,”
According to the Home Office, this patient information is accessed with the strictest of controls. No clinical information is shared, and there has to be a foundation for making the request, meaning that the Home Office will only contact the NHS when all other reasonable attempts to locate people have been exhausted.
The records are typically used to track down individuals who have breached the terms of their immigration restrictions. This might include individuals who have overstayed their visa time limit, escaped detention from an immigration centre or failed to comply with reporting restrictions. The Department of Health is able to turn down these requests if they have reason to believe that the request is not in the public interest, but only 69 out of 2,244 requests were turned down from September to November last year.