A major medical charity has suggested that government guidance will effectively make doctors into border guards.
Doctors of the World insist that Home Office plans to gain access to details of undocumented migrants who seek NHS treatment is placing unreasonable demands on GPs in particular.
In order to challenge this policy, the organisation has recently collaborated with the human rights charity Liberty, along with the National AIDS Trust.
The three parties have raised a petition aimed at assessing the data-issuing policy between the NHS and the Home Office, which came into effect earlier this year.
Lu Hiam, a GP and Doctors of the World adviser, believes that the policy is fundamentally ill-founded.
“Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship. Deterring sick people from getting healthcare has serious consequences. Putting this data-sharing agreement in place without consulting doctors is nonsensical, given what a huge impact it has on our professional role.”
NHS Digital was involved in the agreement published in January, with the organisation required to deliver non-clinical patient details, such as addresses and dates of birth, to the Home Office.
But the coalition of forces believe that doctors are being placed in an insidious position, and have provided a toolkit intended to ensure that surgery can circumnavigate the existing legislation
Meanwhile, Martha Spurrier of Liberty suggests that “fostering fear of the doctor is a whole new dangerous and irresponsible low” for the government.
Other organisations have passed similar motions recently, with the National Union of Teachers condemning the Department of Education requirements for the supplication of pupils’ nationality and country of birth to schools.
Official figures already indicate that the number of Home Office requests to NHS Digital has tripled in the last three years alone.
Over 8,000 requests for patient details have been made in the first 11 months of 2016, which led to nearly 6,000 people being traced by immigration enforcement.
This high percentage of success will certainly be vindication for defenders of the policy, but campaigners believe that the approach runs contrary to basic principles of privacy.
Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, spoke very strongly on the approach advocated by the Home Office, suggesting that doctors were being treated unfairly.
“This government has made border guards of teachers, landlords, bank clerks and now even doctors, all as part of a misguided and counterproductive obsession with creating a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants. Fostering fear of the doctor in this way is a whole new dangerous and irresponsible low. It will put the health of the most vulnerable in society at risk, including children and victims of trafficking and torture.”
Doctors of the World, also known as Médecins du Monde, was founded in 1980 by a group of 15 French physicians, including Bernard Kouchner.