NHS bosses have handed over the personal information of patients, en masse, to the government. The health service’s data handler, NHS Digital, has passed sensitive data, including names, addresses and dates of birth to the Home Office. All on the orders of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the Department of Health. And the “agreement” between the two departments has been going on for years behind the public’s back. But the government has only just revealed this.
formalises existing arrangements for the Home Office to make disclosure requests to NHS Digital for the purpose of tracing immigration offenders and vulnerable people who may be at risk.
It details the “tracing requests” the Home Office will make for personal patient information to NHS Digital. It will use these when it suspects a patient has committed an offence under the Immigration Act 1971. The Home Office requests will require NHS Digital to release a patient’s name and last known address. Also their date of birth, primary care service area code, GP contact details, and date of registration with the NHS.
Spying on thousands
But according [paywall] to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), the departments have already been sharing patient information for three years. HSJ said that, between January 2014 and November 2016, the Home Office made 16,689 tracing requests to NHS Digital. Even though the memo only officially came into effect on 1 January 2017. And as The Guardian reported, Home Office requests to NHS Digital have risen threefold since 2014.
…immigration offenders also harm the economic wellbeing of the country, it is in the public interest that limited UK resources and public services (including the NHS, jobs, schools, housing) are protected from unnecessary financial and resource pressures.
Read on...Support us and go ad-free
A hostile environment
But this comes at a time when the government is creating a “hostile environment” right across the board. For anyone it considers a threat to UK “economic wellbeing”.
As The Canary previously reported, the government is forcibly deporting foreign nationals, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers using secret charter flights. And the person cannot appeal the government’s decision until after their deportation. Historically the ‘deport first, appeal later’ rules only applied to foreign national criminals. But last year the government changed the law so it applied to all migrants. On top of this, the government is also forcing schools to collect information on children’s country of birth and nationality.
A government spokesperson said:
Access to this information is strictly controlled, with strong legal safeguards. No clinical information is shared, and before anything at all is shared there has to be a legal basis to do so. Immigration officials only contact the NHS when other reasonable attempts to locate people have been unsuccessful.
Bastardisation of the NHS?
But the campaign group Movement For Justice told The Canary:
This policy is another example of the government’s ever increasing hostile environment for immigrants. This will leave thousands of people too scared to seek medical help for fear of NHS collaboration with the Home Office. Our NHS should be free and safe for all to access. We need to see a mass campaign of non-cooperation by medical and support staff in the NHS to defend its integrity and ensure healthcare is accessible to all who need it.
The rate at which the government is cracking down on anyone it considers unwelcome in the UK is highly worrying. And it appears to be intentionally feeding into the public disquiet that surrounded the Brexit vote. But the architects of the NHS created it to provide healthcare to everyone, “regardless of wealth”. And when the government uses it as a weapon against people – people who may have fled war, human rights abuses, and oppression – then something is seriously broken within UK society.
– Sign the petition to stop deportation charter flights.
– Support Movement For Justice.
Featured image via Flickr
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?