Home Office immigration officers have asked an East London GP surgery to reveal a patient’s address in what Unite has described as an “appalling” attempt to co-opt health workers into monitoring migrants.
The request comes on the heels of NHS Digital, which manages health service databases, controversially agreeing to share patient information to help the government find immigration offenders – a move the health select committee this week said was “entirely inappropriate”.
Now it has been revealed that the Home Office has gone one step further by writing to a GP’s surgery in Tower Hamlets to request a patient’s address without giving a reason. The surgery, which has not been identified, raised the alarm about the request with its local medical committee.
Doctors in Unite deputy chair, Dr Jackie Applebee, sits on the surgery’s committee and advised that the Home Office’s request was refused.
Dr Applebee told Unite Live, “It’s just appalling. Surgeries shouldn’t be handing this data over and the Home Office shouldn’t be asking for it. This is an escalation of the shocking agreement with NHS Digital to disclose patient data and it can’t be stood for.
“Our duty of care is to our patients. We’re not supposed to breach confidentially unless there’s an overwhelming public interest and that’s usually for very serious matters such as murder. Certainly not for a breach of immigration rules.”
Dr Applebee said breaking the trust between doctor and patient in such a way creates “huge public health issues”.
“If a patient thinks we’re going to report them to the Home Office they won’t seek healthcare in a timely manner,” Dr Applebee said.
“That increases the likelihood of them having to be treated as an emergency, which is much more expensive for the NHS. It also makes it more difficult to control the spread of infectious diseases and creates problems like children not getting immunised.”
Dr Applebee said Doctors in Unite will stand with any GP who is facing similar requests from the Home Office and called on surgeries to reject them.
The request comes as Theresa May’s attempts to create a “hostile environment for illegal immigrants” – including forcing landlords to carry out checks on the immigration status of tenants and the horrendous treatment of British citizens from the Windrush generation – are coming under increasing scrutiny.
Applebee added, “It’s all part of that nasty anti-immigrant rhetoric the government are engaged in. They are trying to move the blame away from themselves and their policies onto people who are easy to target but who are really not to blame.”
The Home Office has refused to explain why it asked the GP surgery for the patient’s details directly, referring instead to its right to seek information about children and vulnerable people for safeguarding purposes.