This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

GP leaders brand immigration officers' request for patient address 'appalling'

Exclusive Immigration officers from the Home Office have asked a GP practice to confirm a patient’s address in a move that GP leaders are calling ‘appalling’.

The Home Office's Immigration and Protection group sent a letter to the practice, located in East London, which then immediately contacted the LMC for advice.

The Home Office letter, a redacted version of which Pulse has seen, asked the practice to 'confirm that you have the above patient' registered at a specified address, along with another resident's name.

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee has since told all GP practices in the area to decline any such requests from the Home Office, stating that a GP's duty is to provide healthcare to patients, not to 'police the immigration system'.

In an email to practices across Tower Hamlets, she called the situation ‘very serious’, explaining that a practice had been approached to reveal a patient’s address due to an ‘immigration issue’.

Dr Applebee advised the practice to decline the request. She stated that GPs are ‘not supposed to breach patient confidentiality unless it is overwhelmingly in the public interest’ and that ‘someone overstaying their visa, or entering this country illegally does not breach that threshold’.

The chair told GPs receiving similar letters to ‘reply very briefly saying that to provide the information would breach patient confidentiality and that you are not prepared to do this’.

This news comes after NHS Digital, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Home Office signed a memorandum of understanding in January 2017, which allowed the Home Office to request patient information from NHS Digital.

And earlier this year, when the MOU was renewed, the DHSC said that patients should have a ‘reasonable expectation’ that their non-medical data would be shared between government officers.

But Dr Applebee told Pulse: ‘GPs are not border guards and I think that it is appalling that practices are being asked to provide patient details to the Home Office.

‘Our duty is to provide healthcare to our patients, not to police the immigration system. We are not supposed to breach confidentiality unless there is an overwhelming case that it is in the public interest to do so.’

She argued that if patients suspect that GPs may be providing this information, it may ‘stop many of them coming to seek the health care they need’.

The GP also warned that this would have knock-on effects to public health and the profession could ‘risk losing the trust of these vulnerable patients, which the doctor-patient relationship relies upon’.

A Home Office spokesperson said: 'The Home Office may, when considering applications involving children, write to GPs [or other official bodies] to confirm that they are registered with them appropriately at their parents’ address.

'This is to ensure that we are complying with our safeguarding responsibilities. We may also confirm registration and address details with GPs where, for example, there are vulnerable adults included as part of an application.'

It declined to offer further explanation beyond the statement.

But Dr Applebee said: ‘Whatever their reasons for requesting this information they are asking GPs to break confidentiality and risk losing the trust of their patients. My advice to the practice remains the same, they should decline to provide the information, the level of public interest is nowhere near that of the guidance from the GMC which would cause a GP to consider breaching confidentiality.’

The RCGP, which wrote to NHS Digital in March in light of the MOU renewal, argued there was no reason for the Home Office to have direct access to patient records, which they said could be obtained 'via court order'.

Last year, medical charity Doctors of the World urged GPs to keep information about certain patients out of their NHS records, in an attempt to stop the details being passed onto the Home Office.

The charity created a toolkit for GPs who wanted their practices to be a 'safe places for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers’, which included advising them to register patients with the practice's address or that of another organisation, instead of their home address.

home office letter 2000x2827px

home office letter 2000x2827px

Readers' comments (8)

  • a person entering the country illegally does not breach that threshold.so breaking the law is ok?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • GPs are supermen and women. Not only do we interfere in domestic affairs acting like counsellors and social workers, we act as bodyguards in child protection, we are good company for loneliness in the elderly and check out their loose carpets and leaky pipes as health and safety officers, we can also deliver medication and act as personal shoppers, doing parenting for some parents who cannot be bothered and now a new role as border guards. In short, doing everything else except what we are meant to do. Treating diseases and being a doctor.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • AlanAlmond

    Our healthcare system is funded out of taxation and organised by our government. Increasingly it’s treated as if it is just another government department, with all its employees, and the data it collects, government property to be fed into any other arm of the state that’s convenient. Regardless of the ins and outs of this particular issue, it’s a good example of the problems inherent in things like centralised medical notes, the NHS spine and any other of the number of government initiatives to centralise information and exert control for vague reasons of ‘efficiency’ and ‘for everyone’s benefit’ . The more involved any state becomes in its individual citizens lives the more individual freedom is eroded. Immigration officials have no business demanding information about people from Drs unless there is an immediate significant risk to someone. There will always be officials who overstep the mark, give someone a job as a government official wherever you are in the world and some of them will misuse their power. The UK is not different. As a good an argument for small government as many.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Is this the fault of our idiot PM when she was in the job, or Amber Rudd who doesn't seem to have a grasp of the correlation between police numbers and serious crime?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Pulse may have breached the rights of a certain Home Office employee by stating that she works there. Oh dear.
    This is RIDICULOUS ! When the GP Practice registered the patient, they shared information with the NHS spine (and requested records). The gP practice this shared the pateints' adress with the central office. If Home office wants to check the address, they should look it up themselves on the NHS spine database, not request a GP practice do it for them! Had they done this, no-one would even have know, which is pretty scary, but no fuss would have been caused. So the point of the request was NOT to find out the patient's address, but to cause turmoil in GP-land once again and try to make GPs out to be bad once more.
    This sort of scheming should NOT happen in a civilised country.
    The Mouse.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Same basis as any other request for information surely - they need to send us the patients signed consent and I personally would check with the patients myself in this case - and send the payment for the work before we release the information. If that doesn’t happen we ignore and get on with all our other work. The charge we make obviously should reflect the seriousness of the potential implications for the patient...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Morale flagging

    We sign passport photos for the home office
    (Some charge..)
    Address confirmation letter for patient with consent and charge
    And they can send it in

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Morale flagging

    Love the small print at the bottom of the letter ....lol...
    Some more info needs redacting

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say