Government agrees to stop snooping on migrant patients

A leak and a legal challenge has forced the government to U-turn

After a campaign and legal challenge against them, the government has announced it will scrap its policy of allowing the Home Office to get patients’ adresses from their health records.

This policy was part of the ‘hostile environment’ agenda and aimed to make it easier for the government to deport people.

Lawyers for the Migrant Rights Network argued in court that this policy was discriminatory against non-British citizens, was an invasion of privacy, violation of doctor-patient confidentiality and left migrants too scared to access healthcare.

The policy was drawn up in secret and only brought to the public’s attention when it was leaked by the former head of NHS Digital Kingsley Manning in January 2017.

After Migrants Right Network challenged the policy’s legality, the government suspended it in May and has now cancelled it for good.

Rita Chadha, interim director of Migrants Rights Network, said:

“On the 70th Anniversary of the NHS it is absolutely vital that our great British institutions uphold the best British values. The right to privacy and the access to health care, is a right that many of us take for granted, sadly this has not been the case of health services for migrants.

“We are delighted that the Government is starting to dismantle the hostile environment by conceding that deterring people from accessing health services is cruel, inhumane and ultimately more costly.”

Lara Ten Caten, a lawyer for human rights organisation Liberty, said:

“This secret data-sharing deal undermined every principle our health service is built on, showing contempt for confidentiality and forcing people to choose between self-medicating and detention and possible deportation.

“This stand-down by the government is a huge victory for everyone who believes we should be able to access healthcare safely – and particularly for doctors and nurses who had become complicit in the Government’s hostile environment against their will. This triumph shows that if we stand up to xenophobic policies, we can and will dismantle them.”

The Liberal Democrats also welcomed the decision.

The party’s Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

“The Home Office should never have been forcing NHS staff to supply patients’ data in the first place. Doctors and nurses’ time should be spent providing healthcare to those who need it, not acting as border guards in Theresa May’s hostile environment.”

However, Migrants Rights Network sounded a note of warning and caution when it said to supporters “we must of course remain ever vigilant, and MRN will continue, alongside other organisations, continue to monitor the situation.”

Joe Lo is a freelance investigative journalist and writes for Left Foot Forward.

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