Stop data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office

by Migrants' Rights Network

Stop data sharing between the NHS and the Home Office

by Migrants' Rights Network
Migrants' Rights Network
The Migrants' Rights Network needs financial support to legally challenge the data-sharing agreement between NHS Digital and the Home Office that targets vulnerable migrants.
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Migrants' Rights Network
The Migrants' Rights Network needs financial support to legally challenge the data-sharing agreement between NHS Digital and the Home Office that targets vulnerable migrants.
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Latest: March 20, 2018

NHS Digital called to meeting again by the Health Select Committee

Dear Supporters,

Last week, there was a meeting called by the Health Select Committee who were asking NHS Digital to justify why they had refused to pause the data-sharing until there was a thorough...

Read more

What's the issue?

In January 2017, the Home Office and NHS Digital issued a memorandum of understanding allowing the Home Office to seek confidential patient information via the NHS for immigration purposes. 

We do not believe it is ethical or legal for the Home Office to have access to confidential patient information without consent. This agreement violates patient confidentiality and puts vulnerable migrants at risk because they will be deterred from accessing healthcare. 

This back-door arrangement also means patients and their GP's are unaware that their information is being shared with other government departments.


Dr Jessica Potter, said: ““Protecting patients’ right to confidentiality underpins my duties as a doctor and that of all healthcare professionals. If we break this, even unintentionally, we risk our patient-doctor relationship, and undermine the Hippocratic oath.

 I will be supporting the legal challenge of the data sharing agreement between the Home Office and the NHS, because I do not want to be deterring people from seeking help when they are unwell. This is not only inhumane, it threatens everyone's health. I hope others will join me to support this challenge and help raise funds for the legal costs”

What are we doing?

We are filing permission for a Judicial Review to challenge the data sharing agreement between the Home Office, NHS Digital and the Department of Health. This agreement is unethical and undermines confidentiality, so we are going to take this case to the High Court.

Where is the money going?

The Home Office has warned us we could be liable for upto £50,000 in legal costs, if we lost the case. MRN already has limited resources, and would be unable to afford these costs, and it would struggle to continue its activities.

To offer us some protection, we are seeking this funding, which will enable us to continue to advocate on behalf of vulnerable and at-risk groups.

Who are we?

The Migrant's Rights Network (MRN) is a campaigning organisation that is working for the rights of all migrants in the UK. We believe in a rights-based approach to migration policies, and work with migrant and refugee communities to amplify their voices on issues that affect them.

For the past decade, MRN has been worried about the creep of immigration enforcement into public services, like health. The policing of health services for immigration purposes has placed increasing pressure on health professionals to act like immigration officers. 

We believe that such practices in health services deters vulnerable migrants from coming forward to seek essential medical help, and affects the doctor-patient relationship.


Update 4

Migrants' Rights Network

March 20, 2018

NHS Digital called to meeting again by the Health Select Committee

Dear Supporters,

Last week, there was a meeting called by the Health Select Committee who were asking NHS Digital to justify why they had refused to pause the data-sharing until there was a thorough review.

Here are a few points that were expressed:

  • Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the committee’s chair, described NHS Digital’s approach and arguments as “dismal”. She demanded to know why they wouldn’t apply a precautionary principle and suspend the agreement, when Public Health England have already expressed concerns about it.
  • NHS Digital shares data with the police, but only in cases of serious crime e.g. rape, murder, and crimes against children.  The committee felt it was unreasonable to suggest that immigration crimes are equivalent to these types of crimes.
  • If NHS Digital is happy to share data with the Home Office, what is to stop it doing so with other government departments e.g. with the Department of Work and Pensions to tackle benefit fraud?
  • NHS Digital conducted a Public Interest Test before making the decision to sign the agreement. They have refused to publish the test at this stage as they are concerned that sharing it publically will be harmful to their legal case.

If you’re interested, the session can be viewed here

There was also some press coverage of the session:

The RCGP Chair has also formally written to NHS Digital stating that she is 'very concerned' by the organisation's decision to continue a data sharing deal with the Home Office.

It is positive to see there are still concerns being expressed by Parliamentarians and medical bodies on this, but it seems more likely that a legal challenge will be the deciding factor on the legality of the data-sharing agreement. This means its even more vital that we reach the £15,000 prior to us having our day in court.

Thank you for all the support you have given us so far. If possible, please do continue to share the issue and the crowdfunder widely.

Update 3

Migrants' Rights Network

March 1, 2018

Permission Granted!!

Dear Supporter, 


We are delighted to share the news that we have been given permission to challenge the challenge the data-sharing agreement between the Home Office, Department of Health and NHS Digital.


Yesterday, we heard Ministers refusing to scrap the agreement, so now we look 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 – not one that further entrenches the government’s ‘hostile environment’.


The case will now go to a full hearing and the judge has recommended the full hearing take place as soon as possible. Again, this is great news – it has taken a while to get to this point, but we hope our day in court will allow us to show how this agreement undermines the fundamental values of the NHS.


We were also pleased that the judge ordered a cost cap of £15,000. Thank you to everyone who has helped us to raise £11,000 towards this so far.


We still need your help to raise the missing £4,000 however – so please do consider either donating or continuing to share our crowdfunding campaign with others.


Together we can make sure this unethical and inhumane agreement is ended once and for all.


In solidarity and support


Fizza Qureshi

Director

Update 2

Migrants' Rights Network

Feb. 28, 2018

Heath Data-Sharing Agreement Oral hearing tomorrow (1/3/18)

Dear Supporter,


Firstly, thank you for your ongoing support.


I wanted to inform you that we have now received a time and venue for the oral hearing on Thursday, March 1 2018. It will be held at 10.30am in Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand.


The oral hearing follows our request that the High Court reconsider an earlier judge’s decision not to allow the judicial review to proceed. We have decided to renew our application for permission to bring the claim, as evidence is mounting about the MoU’s negative consequences.


We are still deeply concerned that the data-sharing agreement is undermining the fundamental values of the NHS. This legal challenge is about protecting medical patients’ right to confidentiality, regardless of their immigration status, and preserving the public’s trust in the health system. On principles alone the MoU should be scrapped. The fact that more and more evidence is surfacing of this agreements harmful human consequences – as we had predicted – is only further justification that data-sharing between the NHS and the Home Office under the MoU should be halted. Many stakeholders, including the BMA Medical Ethics Committee, have drawn similar conclusions in recent weeks.

Here are our reasons for why we continue to pursue this legal challenge to force NHS Digital, the Department of Health and the Home Office to immediately end data-sharing practices, instead of putting lives and public trust at risk while they consider further evidence:

  • violates patient's’ right to privacy under the Human Rights Act;
  • cannot pass the considerable public interest test required to breach the doctor-patient relationship;
  • is leaving migrants too scared to access healthcare services they are entitled to, for fear their address and other personal information may be passed onto the Home Office. This could have a particularly negative effect on children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and victims of trafficking and abuse
  • Is discriminatory

As the case goes forward, we continue to rely on our crowdfunding campaign to ensure we can sustain our defense of public health principles, and migrants' access to healthcare without fear. Do share widely.


In Solidarity


Fizza Qureshi

Director

Update 1

Migrants' Rights Network

Jan. 26, 2018

Refused permission but we aren't giving up!

A few days ago, we received disappointing news that our request for a judicial review was refused permission. Fortunately, our legal team are confident of overturning it through an oral hearing, so we are going for it!


This case and issue is too important not to pursue. Two weeks ago, we heard of evidence in the Health Select Committee, where the witnesses were describing the deterrence effect of the data-sharing agreement, and how people’s health and lives have been put at risk. You can read our brief blog on the issue here, and view the whole evidence session here.


We will keep you informed on our appeal request, as this should be heard fairly soon. In the meantime, we want to thank you for your continued support, and would like to encourage you to share the crowdfunder and the news of the case with others.


All the best


Fizza

Director- Migrants' Rights Network

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