Med­i­cal ethics: UK uses data from doc­tors to find mi­grants


To track down peo­ple in Bri­tain who may have bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion rules, the gov­ern­ment is turn­ing to a new and con­tro­ver­sial source of in­for­ma­tion: Doc­tors.

In let­ters made pub­lic last month, politi­cians sparred with im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials over a data-shar­ing agree­ment qui­etly signed in 2016 that gives the gov­ern­ment ac­cess to personal in­for­ma­tion col­lected by the coun­try’s fam­ily doc­tors. Med­i­cal de­tails are ex­cluded.

A par­lia­men­tary health com­mit­tee con­demned the sit­u­a­tion as “un­ac­cept­able,” call­ing for the agree­ment to be sus­pended. But Bri­tain’s im­mi­gra­tion de­part­ment has dis­missed those con­cerns, ar­gu­ing that such data shar­ing al­lows the UK to re­move peo­ple “who might pose a dan­ger to the pub­lic.”

Doc­tors who work with refugees and asy­lum seek­ers have de­scribed it as a ma­jor breach of med­i­cal ethics, say­ing it isn’t up to physi­cians to en­force im­mi­gra­tion rules.

“We un­der­stand the gov­ern­ment has a job to do, but go­ing into health records to get pa­tient in­for­ma­tion is not OK,” said Lucy Jones, direc­tor of pro­grams at Doc­tors of the World UK. “The idea that any pa­tient in­for­ma­tion is be­ing shared with a gov­ern­ment body im­me­di­ately breaks their trust in a doc­tor-pa­tient re­la­tion­ship.”

Sev­eral lead­ing med­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Royal Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers, Pub­lic Health Eng­land and the Gen­eral Med­i­cal Coun­cil, have all slammed the datashar­ing deal, say­ing it could worsen the health of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple and drive dis­ease out­breaks un­der­ground, hurt­ing health care for all.

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