Legal challenge granted over UK NHS-Home Office patient data deal

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The British High Court has granted a legal challenge against a NHS-Home Office deal to hand over patient data to immigration officials. The Independent reports that the challenge, put forward by Migrants Rights Net (MRN), a UK charity advocating for the rights of migrants, will now go to a full hearing.

Currently the Home Office makes thousands of requests each year through the deal with NHS Digital and the Department of Health and only a fraction – around 3% – are turned down.

The report quotes the MRN as saying: “MRN is delighted at the decision and looks forward to taking the legal challenge forward, helping to protect the right of all patients to confidentiality. We need a health system that everyone can trust, regardless of their immigration status.”

The report says the news comes a day after NHS Digital and ministers rejected a call by the health committee to end the deal which sees patient names, addresses and date of birth handed over to the Home Office on request. A joint response from Home Office minister for immigration, Caroline Nokes, and health minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said opponents were underplaying the need for immigration enforcement. They added that no one should expect their personal, non-medical information should remain private to the government when using a public service, writing: “We do not consider that a person using the NHS can have a reasonable expectation when using this taxpayer-funded service that their non-medical data, which lies at the lower end of the privacy spectrum, will not be shared securely between other officers within government in exercise of their lawful powers in cases such as these.”

The Health Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston said NHS Digital had failed to consider the public interest in maintaining the fundamental principle of patient confidentiality or the ethical implications of sacrificing it.

In the letter, Wollaston said the NHS “undoubtedly” holds information useful to the Home Office, but it “should not place that above the serious adverse consequences of such a decision”. She added: “We are seriously concerned about the way NHS Digital has approached its duty to respect and promote confidentiality.

“We call for a halt to the present system of information-sharing and a full review of the original memorandum of understanding with the Home Office.”

The Independent report

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