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MPs say NHS Digital is failing to uphold patient confidentiality

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  • Fifth of patients in Wales finding it ‘very difficult’ to make a convenient GP appointment

    Fifth of patients in Wales finding it ‘very difficult’ to make a convenient GP appointment

    Tuesday, 17 April 2018 08:58
  • MPs say NHS Digital is failing to uphold patient confidentiality

    MPs say NHS Digital is failing to uphold patient confidentiality

    Monday, 16 April 2018 14:13
  • GMC expecting 5,000 overseas doctors to sit language exam this year

    GMC expecting 5,000 overseas doctors to sit language exam this year

    Monday, 16 April 2018 09:26
  • CQC: online GP services are improving, ‘but some concerns remain’

    CQC: online GP services are improving, ‘but some concerns remain’

    Thursday, 29 March 2018 11:38
  • Health Select Committee renews request for reports of GP visa problems

    Health Select Committee renews request for reports of GP visa problems

    Monday, 19 March 2018 12:34

a westminster imageApril 16 2018

MPs continue to have “serious concerns” about NHS Digital’s ability to protect patient data, a new report says. In particular, the House of Common Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC) has reiterated that NHS Digital should suspend its Memorandum of Understanding with the Home Office and Department of Health and Social Care over the sharing of patient details in tracing immigration offenders.

In its report published on April 15, the HSCC said the government’s response “to the serious concerns raised during the session was wholly unsatisfactory and the Committee again calls on NHS Digital to suspend sharing address data.” It says a “proper consultation with all interested parties, and with the full involvement of experts in medical ethics” is needed.

HSCC Chair Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, said: “There is a clear ethical principle that address data held for the purposes of health and care should only be shared for law enforcement purposes in the case of serious crime.

“NHS Digital's decision to routinely share information with the Home Office with a lower threshold is entirely inappropriate. This behaviour calls into question NHS Digital’s ability to robustly act on behalf of patients in the event of other data sharing requests including from other government departments in the future.

Responding to the HSCC report, Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive at NHS Digital, said: “We will consider the Health Select Committee's report carefully and will take into account any new evidence as it becomes available, but we have been through a rigorous process to assess the release of demographic data to the Home Office.

“This has established that there is a legal basis for the release and has assured us that it is in the public interest to share limited demographic data in very specific circumstances.”

The RCGP said GP patient data “must not be treated like the Yellow Pages.” RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, accused the Home Office of displaying “a blatant disregard for the trusted and vital GP-patient relationship, and its casual approach to confidential patient data risks alienating highly vulnerable patients.

“It is treating GP patient data like the Yellow Pages, and we are calling on NHS Digital to take urgent measures to suspend the agreement that is allowing them to do so,” she said. “The scale of the examples we're hearing about are becoming increasingly alarming – and if all are true, paint a terrible picture.

“We fully agree with the Health Select Committee that any harm being inadvertently caused must be quantified, explicitly discussed and rigorously evaluated before any data sharing agreement can continue.”

Dr John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, noted: “As stated by the Committee, most immigration offences clearly do not meet the high public interest threshold for releasing confidential data, which according to NHS England, the GMC and even NHS Digital’s own guidance, should be reserved for cases which involve ‘serious’ crime.

“We must therefore question NHS Digital’s ability to act as a trusted custodian for the data it holds and its assertation that it prioritises patients’ best interests when handling their data.”

He referred to an example seen in the past week of a GP in London receiving a letter from the Home Office requesting information about a patient for immigration purposes. “This example of a doctor being asked to effectively act as an enforcer for the Home Office is wholly at odds with a doctor’s primary role to promote the best interests of their patients,” he said.

Links:
House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee report   
NHS Digital response   
RCGP comment           
BMA comment

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