The Government has announced that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Home Office, NHS Digital and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which enabled the Home Office to request contact details from health records held by NHS Digital for immigration purposes, will be amended.

Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Select Committee and a practising GP, tabled an amendment to the Data Protection Bill that would seek to raise the bar for these requests to be legal. During a Commons debate on the Bill on 9 May, Culture minister Margot James confirmed that the MoU data sharing arrangements will be amended.

Data sharing between the Home Office and NHS Digital will now only be used in very limited circumstances. It will only be used:

  • to trace individuals being considered for deportation action having been investigated for, or convicted of, a serious criminal office which results in a prison sentence of 12 months or more.
  • where the presence of an individual is considered to present a risk to public security, but have yet to be convicted of a criminal offence.
  • where there are concerns about the welfare and safety of a missing individual for example vulnerable children and adults. 

This is a far narrower scope for the MoU to work within. It is estimated the amendment will exclude the majority of current requests.

This decision follows a lengthy period of debates and letters between the Health Select Committee, NHS Digital, Home Office and DHSC. The Committee had heavily criticised the MoU as undermining the duty of confidentiality between doctors and their patients. Read our previous update here

Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, responds here and commits to publishing the updated MoU openly.

The Royal College of GPs has welcomed government’s decision. Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP Chair, said, “It is now important that we work to re-establish any trust that may have been lost around how NHS data is used”.

The BMA also welcomed the decision. John Chisholm, BMA medical ethics committee chair, explains the BMA’s view on the MoU in his blog here.