NHS quango using patient data like ‘Yellow Pages’

16 Apr 18

NHS Digital’s data-sharing with the Home Office is “entirely inappropriate”, a group of MPs has said. 

The commons heath and social care select committee has expressed its concerns that a Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the quango and the Home Office may breach patient confidentiality.

The MoU, which came into effect on 1 January 2017, has seen patient details such as names, addresses and date of birth being shared with a view to tracing immigration offenders.

NHS Digital is charged with improving health and care using information and technology.

The select committee MPs said data held for the purposes of health and care should only be shared for law enforcement purposes in the case of “serious crime”.

Chair Sarah Wollaston said the committee was “deeply concerned” that sharing of patient data could become normal practice between NHS Digital and other government departments.

The report, published on Sunday, said: “The leadership of NHS Digital has not been sufficiently robust in upholding the interests of patients or in maintaining the necessary degree of independence from government.”

On January 29, the committee wrote to NHS Digital requesting that it suspend its involvement in the MoU until the current review of the NHS Code of Confidentiality is complete.

This letter was rejected by ministers in the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS Digital.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The Home Office is displaying blatant disregard for the trusted and vital GP-patient relationship, and its casual approach to confidential patient data risks alienating highly vulnerable patients.

“It is treating the GP patient data like the Yellow Pages, and we are calling on NHS Digital to take urgent measures to suspend the agreement that is allowing them to do so.”

NHS Digital’s chief executive Sarah Wilkinson said: “We will consider the health select committee's report carefully and will take into account any new evidence as it becomes available, but we have been through a rigorous process to assess the release of demographic data to the Home Office.

“This has established that there is a legal basis for the release and has assured us that it is in the public interest to share limited demographic data in very specific circumstances.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Non-clinical information is shared on occasion between health agencies and the Home Office to locate individuals suspected of committing immigration offences.

“This data is strictly controlled and only shared if there is a legal basis to do so.”

They added: “We will consider the health and social care select committee's report and respond in due course.”

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