Monday, 14 July 2014


The Home Office has been given access to the NHS records of more than 6,900 people since 2010 as part of its efforts to track down illegal immigrants, prompting concerns from patients' and migrants' rights groups.

Medical records are protected by data protection laws but new statistics show the Home Office has made use of a little-noticed exemption in the rules to access patients' non-clinical records, without any need for a court order.

The exemption allows officials to see where people have made use of the health service and when, but not the details of the clinical conditions or medical attention they received.

Police forces and the National Crime Agency have also accessed these records, the figures show, in pursuit of perpetrators of serious crimes such as murder and rape.

Patients' groups said the use of NHS records by immigration and law enforcement officials could deter people from seeking treatment for themselves or their families, and so pose a public health risk.

"We are concerned to learn that the Home Office is seeking to track down potential immigration offenders by requesting their medical records," said Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association. "Whilst we are aware of the government's need to clamp down on illegal immigrants, we don't believe that it should be done via their medical and social care records.

"There is the very real danger that some patients may put off seeking medical help for fear of their details being leaked. Furthermore, children may suffer if parents are reluctant to take them for treatment when they are ill. The health and welfare of patients must always be the priority and we must not introduce policies which could undermine the core principles of our health service."

The Home Office requests first emerged in a 91-page independent report on data release policy at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) this month. The PricewaterhouseCoopers report found that between July 2010 and December 2013 the Home Office made more than 12,587 requests for records from the NHS's National Back Office, which keeps basic information on all registered NHS patients.

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