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Independents' Day

Medical charity wants to help GPs avoid passing patient details to Home Office

A medical charity is urging GPs to keep information about certain patients out of NHS records to prevent it being passed on to the Home Office.

Doctors of the World said it created the ‘Safe Surgeries’ toolkit for GPs who ‘want their practices to be safe places for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers’ .

The toolkit advises GPs on how to register patients with the practice’s address, or that of another local organisatoin, rather than their home address.

It also comes with a poster GP practices can place in reception areas, advising patients of their option to register with no fixed abode.

It further advises reception staff never to ask for passports or other proof of identity upon registration.

According to Doctors of the World, the measures are necessary in light of the new data-sharing agreement between NHS Digital and the Home Office, which means patient addresses can be passed on to trace immigration offenders.

DH figures, obtained by the charity, showed that of 8,127 Home Office requests for data in the first 11 months of 2016, 5,854 people were traced by immigration teams.

The charity said the situation led to patients showing up at their volunteer-run clinics having not accessed vital healthcare. It said this included a woman attending its clinic in Bethnal Green in east London ’whilst in labour after not having any antenatal care because she was too afraid to access it’.

The Lower Clapton Group Practice, a GP practice in east London, is already using the toolkit.

Dr Miriam Beeks, a GP at the practice, said: ’Doctors in general hate the idea that they are being used as immigration officers. Most doctors have no idea about the data-sharing agreement.

’It’s extraordinary that doctors have not been asked about this - there has just been some sort of ministerial dictum. How could they think that doctors would not object to this?’

The charity’s GP adviser Dr Lu Hiam said: ‘Putting this data-sharing agreement in place without consulting doctors is nonsensical, given what a huge impact it has on our professional role. Having some practical things we can do to take a stand against this is really helpful.’

As part of the campaign, the charity is also petitioning the Government to end the data-sharing deal between the NHS and Home Office.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Cobblers

    I recall about 20 years ago a colleague stated that the government would not be able to keep its grubby little hands off the juicy data held by medical practices. And so it has proved. We have seen but the thin end of the wedge.

    I don't know the answer. Paper would banjax HMG but having done that (when the demand was a lot lower) it is not practical. Payments would suffer too.

    HMG has made our payments subject to database interrogation so we may have to wait until a new payment structure is agreed and absolutely refuse a computer based one.

    Can't see it somehow.

    Only way I can see forward is a form of subterfuge. Tick the boxes, cover your arse medicolegally and protect the patient's data. Encrypt the free text perhaps?

    Of course database sharing would suffer but it would keep those absolutely not entitled to share out.


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  • Noble intentions I'm sure. It would be interesting to know how practices deal with appointment letters from bowel cancer screening, breast screening etc. They would all go the practice who would then be responsible for chasing a patient who has no fixed abode and possibly no telephone. Any missed screening appointment resulting in harm to the patient may end up being the responsibility of the practice. Any practices involved who would like to share their thoughts?

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