Data-sharing agreement could threaten patient confidentiality

The Health Select Committee held an evidence session to consider the impact of a data sharing memorandum between NHS Digital and the Home Office.

Doctors and third sector organisations have expressed concerns about the data sharing systems between NHS Digital and the Home Office, arguing that patients who have no legal basis for being in the UK are too scared to see a doctor for fear or being deported.  

"Trust is essential to the doctor-patient relationship, and confidentiality is central to that trust. We recognise that confidentiality is not absolute and there are circumstances where it is in the public interest to disclose information. "

Charlie Massey

GMC Chief Executive

Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, wrote a letter to the Health Select Committee to present evidence and express concerns about the impact the memorandum could have on patients who are not seeking urgent medical care. 

He said: ‘We have expressed our concerns to NHS Digital and the Department of Health about the impact this memorandum could have on patients’ trust in doctors and have yet to be reassured that information will only be disclosed in cases where there is a clear public interest.

A matter of public interest 

‘Trust is essential to the doctor-patient relationship, and confidentiality is central to that trust. We recognise that confidentiality is not absolute and there are circumstances where it is in the public interest to disclose information. 

‘However, doctors and third sector organisations are concerned they may fall foul of our guidance and patients may fail to register with a GP out of fear of immigration action being taken against them. It is a matter of public interest if patients avoid seeking medical care due to such fears.’

  • We believe there should be public consultation on how the public interest test is being applied to these cases, and that Public Health England’s review of the impact on patient behaviour and public health should be carried out on a much tighter timescale than the two years currently proposed for the work.
  • We also wish to see NHS Digital support general practitioners to fulfil their professional and legal obligations to handle personal information in ways that are transparent and meet patients’ expectations.       

Read more about the Health Select Committee's evidence session.