Humanitarian group Doctors of the World told GPonline that vulnerable patients could be put off seeking care from GPs if they were asked questions about their immigration status and feared the information could be shared with the Home Office.
A supplementary section added to GMS1 forms this year asks patients ‘not ordinarily resident in the UK’ to sign a declaration accepting that they may have to pay for NHS treatment outside of the GP practice, and provide information on how they should be charged.
But Doctors of the World stressed that the supplementary section is optional and advised that practices should be aware of this when registering new patients. The GPC added that patients can still be registered at a GP practice even if they do not fill in the supplementary section.
Doctors of the World said some of its members had begun crossing through the section so that migrant patients feel safer accessing GP services. Earlier this year, the charity advised doctors to register refugee, migrant or asylum seeker patients as 'no fixed abode' to avoid their addresses being transferred to the Home Office under a data sharing deal with NHS Digital.
Doctors of the World warned that requesting information for the supplementary GMS1 questions could pose a barrier to care for people in this vulnerable group.
A spokeswoman told GPonline: ‘We already know a lot of our patients have trouble registering with GPs because they are asked for a lot of identification and proof of address they don’t have – and they are denied registration as a result of that, even though it’s not necessary to sign up.
‘Having this on the form is seen as an additional prompt for that information to be requested.
‘People are often fearful of that information being shared with the Home Office, and that’s quite a justified fear – we know that this data can be accessed by the Home Office.
‘The important thing to know this is a data collection exercise, and not something that’s obligatory for practices to have their patients complete.’
Dr Lucinda Hiam, GP and medical adviser for Doctors of the World, said: ‘GPs are obligated to provide the form, but where it says supplementary – that is not compulsory and doesn’t have to be completed.
‘I'm not making a particular recommendation – it’s up to practices what they choose to do. The key message is it doesn’t have to be completed.’
The charity said it was aware of GPs using other means to avoid sharing information on patients’ addresses, such as displaying posters informing patients they do not have to share this information.
A spokeswoman for Doctors of the World added: ‘The form clearly says the new questions are not compulsory; registering patients do not need to fill them in, and GP practices cannot refuse to register a patient who doesn’t answer them.
‘GP practices can also take steps to ensure patients know they do not have to fill in these questions, for example by striking out the questions on their forms, as some GPs have chosen to do.’
GPC chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Practices are contractually obliged to give the supplementary questions to new patients seeking to register with the practice but it is for patients to complete this and self-declare their status.
‘If a patient does not complete the questions then a practice should still register the patient.’
Motions put forward for next week's England LMCs conference say GPs should have no role in checking patients' immigration status, and oppose GP contract requirements to check EHIC cards.