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BMA responds to decision to reject suspension of memorandum of understanding

Responding to the decision by ministers to reject calls from MPs to suspend the disclosure of confidential NHS patient data to the Home office to trace potential immigration offenders, BMA medical ethics committee chair, Dr John Chisholm, said:

“It’s misleading to suggest that because no clinical data are investigated or shared by NHS Digital with non-clinical bodies, as part of this understanding, there isn’t a damaging effect on the trusting relationship between doctors and patients, and that sharing confidential information can be justified by this argument.  

“This arrangement between NHS Digital, the Home Office and the Department of Health is eroding the faith patients place in the medical profession and, if patients fear a visit to their doctor could mean their private data are used for purposes other than those for which they’re sought and given, it could have dangerous repercussions.

“It’s not only dangerous to deter patients from visiting a doctor for their own health, but it could pose a wider public health risk if conditions aren’t diagnosed and treated because someone’s been too fearful to come to the GP practice.

“A particular concern about this arrangement for us is the precedent it sets for lowering the threshold at which healthcare providers must disclose patient-identifiable information. This leaves patients in doubt about whether information they give to a doctor is ‘truly’ confidential.

“We’re still not convinced these disclosures meet the public interest standard set for doctors by the General Medical Council, their regulator.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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