MPs hail major U-turn on NHS immigration data-sharing scheme
NHS staff will no longer share patient data with the Home Office to assist with immigration inspections, ministers have announced in an embarrassing climbdown.
Instead the information will be shared only if people being considered for deportation from Britain because they have committed a serious crime need to be tracked, Digital Minister Margot James said.
Labour said the U-turn was another victory against the “hostile environment” immigration policy - but urged the Government to go further.
Stats body NHS digital shared the details of some 3,000 patients last year after they submitted information during GP and hospital appointments.
But campaigners argued the mechanism could put people off seeking medical treatment, and the Government finally caved yesterday by accepting an amendment from two doctor MPs.
One of them, the Labour MP Paul Williams, welcomed the “huge U-turn”, while the other, Tory MP and chair of the Health Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston, said she was “delighted”.
Ms James told a parliamentary debate on the Data Protection Bill that the memorandum of understanding between the NHS Digital and the Home Office would end “with immediate effect”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth declared: “This policy was yet another example of Theresa May’s heartless ‘hostile environment’ which is clearly undermining patient care.”
He added: “Today’s U-turn should only be the start. To protect the best interests of patients the Government must end Theresa May’s hostile environment entirely.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: “After careful consideration of the concerns raised by the health and social care select committee, the circumstances in which the Home Office will request data from the NHS has changed with immediate effect.
“The changes mean that data will be requested to locate foreign national offenders we intend to deport who have been given a prison sentence of 12 months or more and others who present a risk to the public.
“We remain committed to tackling illegal immigration and will continue to trace immigration offenders using a range of different investigative measures.”