Home Office halts use of NHS patient records to track down illegal immigrants

Nursing leaders support the ‘very welcome U-turn’

Nursing leaders have welcomed a Home Office announcement that it will no longer use NHS patient records to find illegal immigrants.

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The policy change follows concerns raised by the Commons health and social care committee that the approach breached patient confidentiality, and could deter people from seeking treatment, as well as damage the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients.

Minister for digital Margot James announced yesterday that the rules would be tightened so that patient records can only be shared in cases ‘involving serious criminality’.

Ms James, speaking during a House of Commons debate on the Data Protection Act, said: ‘The bar for sharing data will now be set significantly higher… no longer will the names of overstayers and illegal entrants be sought against health service records to find current address details.’

‘A step in the right direction’

Nursing and medical leaders have welcomed the change, which came into effect immediately. 

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said it meant healthcare staff would ‘no longer have to act as immigration officers on the wards’.

She added: ‘This move is a step in the right direction. Now healthcare staff can get back to focusing on patient care and saving lives.’

An RCN spokesperson said: ‘This is a very welcome U-turn. Some patients whose immigration status was in question could have been put off seeking prompt treatment.

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

British Medical Association medical ethics committee chair John Chisholm described the change as a ‘positive step’.  

He said: ‘The relationship between doctor and patient is based on a foundation of confidentiality and trust.’ 

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