A controversial agreement for the NHS to pass information about hospitalised migrants to the immigration authorities has been shelved, campaigners say. The Migrants’ Right Network and Liberty announced today that a legal challenge to an agreement for patient data to be shared with the Home Office has succeeded. A joint press release says:
Under pressure to withdraw the arrangement, the Government announced in May 2018 that it would be suspended, and would only apply to people who had committed serious crimes. The legal challenge was placed on hold pending amendments to the deal.
On Friday 2 November, NHS Digital confirmed the deal would be completely withdrawn.
A memorandum of understanding between the health service and Home Office had allowed the latter to request “non-clinical” information held by NHS Digital since January 2017. The aim was to track down people who had committed an immigration offence under sections 24 or 24A of the Immigration Act 1971 and who the Home Office has lost track of. NHS Digital agreed to provide information, including last known address and GP area code, upon request and subject to various conditions.
The memorandum included provisions on sharing the costs of a legal challenge and “lines to take” in the event of media interest, suggesting that the departments involved knew that it would generate controversy.
Fantastic news from @migrants_rights this morning: they’ve won an important battle with the Home Office over their NHS data-sharing policy. The underhand deal has been “completely withdrawn.” Huge victory against #hostileenvironment #hostiledata https://t.co/qi6e8YDY9L
— Migrant Voice (@MigrantVoiceUK) November 12, 2018
The High Court granted permission for a judicial review challenge to proceed in March 2018, with Guy Vassall-Adams QC, Sarah Hannett and Aidan Wills of Matrix Chambers working on the case pro bono.
Liberty solicitor Laura ten Caten said that
This secret data-sharing deal undermined every principle our health service is built on, showing contempt for confidentiality and forcing people to choose between self-medicating and detention and possible deportation.
This stand-down by the government is a huge victory for everyone who believes we should be able to access healthcare safely – and particularly for doctors and nurses who had become complicit in the Government’s hostile environment against their will. This triumph shows that if we stand up to xenophobic policies, we can and will dismantle them.
The Home Office, however, said that it was working on a replacement. A spokesperson said:
We continue to work with NHS Digital on a new memorandum of understanding to enable us to make requests for non-medical information about those facing deportation action because they have committed serious crimes, or where information is necessary to protect someone’s welfare.
Free Movement understands that a new version being worked on will allow the department to request data on people facing deportation for serious criminal offending and where necessary to protect the welfare of an individual.
Nevertheless, the existing agreement being dropped represents a major boost for the Migrants’ Right Network in particular. The organisation recently announced that it was facing “financial challenges” and was planning to cut staff numbers.