January 17, 2018
In the UK, a group of experts have informed the members of Parliament’s health select committee about the detrimental effects of a 2017 data-sharing agreement between the National Health Service (NHS) and the Home Office.
A ‘memorandum of understanding’ between the NHS’s digital service and the government allows the Home Office to make disclosure requests to the health service to help trace “immigration offenders and vulnerable people who may be at risk”. The system came into force in January 2017. As a result, seriously ill migrants have been too scared to seek medical treatment in the UK for fear of being deported.
Marissa Begonia of Voice of Domestic Workers, which campaigns for recognition and representation for household workers, explained how one woman died because she was too worried about seeking help for her persistent cough. “We had one member who died and never sought any hospitalisation or GP because she was too frightened,” she said. “She was not even aware of what kind of disease she had – she was just coughing very badly and just thought it was a cold.”
Dr Lucinda Haim, a GP at Doctors of the World, which provides treatment to those excluded from health care, said the organisation had seen many cases of pregnant women seeking help from them because they were too scared to give their address to a GP.She told the committee: “Just this morning someone who was eight weeks pregnant was on the phone to us in tears, saying she was too scared to go to a GP, she was too scared to go to an antenatal clinic.”
Breach of confidentiality
Paul Williams, MD and a member of the health select committee said: ”Patients should give information to health services safe in the knowledge that it will be protected. We’ve seen today that this confidentiality is being breached on an industrial scale. Doctors don’t want to see this happening, and we’ve heard heartbreaking stories today of harm being done to patients.”
In response, Immigration minister Caroline Noakes told the committee it was important for the Home Office to use “a range of measures” to identify people breaking the law. “We do not wish to deter anybody from seeking health care where necessary, but equally we have a public interest to make sure we know where as many people are as possible.”