Illegal immigrants could escape detection after ministers announce Home Office will no longer use NHS records to track them down


Illegal immigrants could escape detection after ministers announced the Home Office will no longer use NHS records to track them down.

Patient records will now only be shared to help trace individuals facing deportation because they have committed a serious crime.

Ministers tightened the rules after MPs raised concerns the policy breached patient confidentiality. Sharing NHS information with enforcement officers had been part of Government efforts to create a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants.

Digital Minister Margot James announced the U-turn in the wake of the Windrush scandal during the Parliamentary debate on the Data Protection Bill.

She said a memorandum of understanding on the exchange of information between the NHS and the Home Office over illegal immigrants, which is said to have been taking place since 2005, was being suspended.

In 2016, confidential information on 8,527 people contained in their NHS records was requested by the Home Office.

NHS Digital, the data network for the healthcare system, provided 5,854 matches – including surnames, dates of birth, gender, last known addresses and dates of registration. It did not request details of medical conditions or any treatment received.

She told MPs that the data would only be used in future ‘to trace an individual who is being considered for deportation action having been investigated for or convicted of a serious criminal offence’.

 Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Commons health select committee and had lodged an amendment to change the rules, said she was ‘delighted’.