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Data sharing 'discouraging asylum seekers from receiving healthcare' warn experts

Nurses and doctors have warned that asylum seeker and refugee fears about NHS data sharing might be stopping them receiving essential healthcare

Nurses and doctors have warned that asylum seeker and refugee fears about NHS data sharing might be stopping them receiving essential healthcare.

They highlighted the concerns at a conference launch at the end of January of an online resource hub for professionals caring for asylum seekers and refugees.

The resource has been set up by mental health nurse and Rwandan refugee Philomene Uwamaliya, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University.

Last week, a letter from the Commons health committee was sent to NHS Digital requesting it to 'immediately cease' sharing patient data with the Home Office for immigration tracing purposes.

The committee wants the data sharing to stop while NHS Digital conducts a full review of its decision on the public interest test for such requests.

In January last year a memorandum

Nurses and doctors have warned that asylum seeker and refugee fears about NHS data sharing might be stopping them receiving essential healthcare.

They highlighted the concerns at a conference launch at the end of January of an online resource hub for professionals caring for asylum seekers and refugees.


Philomene Uwamaliya. Picture: Barney Newman

The resource has been set up by mental health nurse and Rwandan refugee Philomene Uwamaliya, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University.

Last week, a letter from the Commons health committee was sent to NHS Digital requesting it to 'immediately cease' sharing patient data with the Home Office for immigration tracing purposes.

The committee wants the data sharing to stop while NHS Digital conducts a full review of its decision on the public interest test for such requests.

In January last year a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was created between the Home Office, NHS Digital and the Department of Health allowing the processing of information requests from the Home Office to NHS Digital for tracing so-called 'immigration offenders'.

Non-clinical details of patients, including their last known address, date of birth and details of their primary care service contact could be handed to immigration officials. 

#StopSharing campaign

Doctors of the World UK, a charity which helps asylum seekers and refugees access care, set up the #StopSharing campaign and petition along with the National Aids Trust last year, receiving 5,000 signatures.

GP Peter Gough, a volunteer for the charity, spoke at the online resource hub conference last week.

He told attending nurse and doctors about a woman who arrived at the charity's clinic in labour and another woman whose breast cancer had grown so large clinicians thought it was a baby under her clothes.

Dr Gough told Nursing Standard: ‘As health professionals we don’t now feel comfortable saying to people their information is completely safe.

‘People are people and this situation is just leading to more desperation.’

Angela Burnett, lead doctor and responsible officer at charity Freedom from Torture, also spoke at the conference and applauded the health committee for taking the action on sharing of information.

'I applaud the select committee for taking this step forward because the sharing of information has been a deterrent to people experiencing the care they need.’

Confirmed receipt of the letter

An NHS Digital spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter and said it would respond fully in due course.

Commenting on the issue of data sharing, RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Donna Kinnair said: ‘The RCN is concerned that fear their details may be shared could put off some patients whose immigration status is in question from seeking prompt treatment, or indeed any treatment at all.'

She added that in the case of infectious diseases there were obvious consequences for public health.

'We are worried that this arrangement also puts frontline staff in a difficult position if patients fear their details may be passed to the Home Office,' Ms Kinnair added.

‘Nursing staff must be able to provide care and treatment to all who need it, no matter what their immigration status.’

Further information

Read the letter from the Commons health committee

See the petition


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