Home Office asks London GP to disclose patient's address

An East End GP surgery has been asked by the Home Office to disclose a patient’s address in what health campaigners fear is an “escalation” of intrusion into confidential records.

The request comes amid controversy at the willingness of NHS Digital, the health service’s information quango, to share patient details to help the Government to track immigration offenders.

The Commons Health Committee this week said it was “deeply concerned” that the sharing of non-clinical data such as addresses could discourage migrants from seeking healthcare.

This could cause them harm, was likely to prove more expensive to the NHS if an untreated condition worsened, and could cause wider public health issues if their children went unvaccinated for diseases such as measles, the MPs said.

Now it has emerged that the Home Office wrote directly to a surgery, in Tower Hamlets, to request a patient’s address, rather than the common route of a request via NHS Digital. The practice, which asked not to be identified, was alarmed, and consulted the local medical committee. 

Dr Jackie Applebee, chairwoman of the committee, told the Standard: “I said they should decline, on the basis that it’s a breach of patient confidentiality. It really risks losing the trust of patients if this sort of data is divulged.” The practice declined to give the information to the Home Office.

It is understood that the practice was asked to confirm a patient’s address, without being given any background.

Dr Applebee said it was an “escalation” of a “memorandum of understanding” on data sharing that began last year between the Home Office, Department of Health and NHS Digital.

Migrants are entitled to free health care from GPs and free emergency care at A&Es. Doctors are only obliged to set aside their duty of confidentiality and share data with other authorities on rare occasions, such as when serious crime has been committed.

The British Medical Association says that most immigration cases do not meet such a high “public interest” threshold.

The Department of Health said it was reasonable to share “non-medical data” between government departments.

The Home Office declined to explain why it had approached the GP practice directly, but referred to its right to seek information about children and vulnerable adults to comply with safeguarding responsibilities.@RossLydall

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