RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has written to NHS Digital to warn that she is 'very concerned' by the organisation's decision to continue a data sharing deal with the Home Office despite calls from MPs for it to be suspended.
The cross-party House of Commons health select committee warned NHS Digital that continuing to share data had implications for patients, clinicians and wider public health, and threatened not only to undermine 'public confidence in confidentiality but put at risk the efforts to build support for data sharing in other vital areas such as medical research'.
However, NHS Digital chief executive Sarah Wilkinson rejected the call for data sharing to stop, saying: 'We do not believe it is in the public interest for us to frustrate the Home Office’s function of immigration enforcement by suspending this activity.'
A memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the DHSC allows NHS data to be shared to help the Home Office track 'immigration offenders'.
GPs have been concerned for some time at bids to use data from patient records to enforce immigration rules - with some crossing out 'supplementary information' sections about patients' immigration status on GMS1 forms, because they are concerned that having to share this information could put vulnerable patients off seeking healthcare.
GPonline reported last month that a GP in Liverpool had been asked by a Home Office agency to serve a deportation notice on a patient with mental health issues - a request he refused.
Professor Stokes-Lampard wrote that the college believes there is 'no requirement to change the current system, which enables information and records to be obtained via court order'.
She added: 'GPs and other health professionals have a duty to deliver care to patients, regardless of their individual circumstances. This care is provided on the mutual understanding that the information our patients share with us remains confidential. This principle is fundamental to the trust which exists between doctors and patients.
'Any process that undermines this trust will both deteriorate the doctor-patient relationship, and deter vulnerable people from seeking medical assistance when they need it.'