NHS DIGITAL has rejected calls from MPs to put an "immediate stop" to the sharing of confidential patient data with the Home Office.
Last month, Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the House of Commons health select committee, penned a letter to NHS Digital calling for it to put an immediate halt to the controversial data-sharing deal that sees the confidential details of more than 8,000 patients shared with the Home Office every year.
In a letter addressed chief executive of NHS Digital Sarah Wilkinson, Wollaston called on NHS Digital to "immediately withdraw" the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that underwrites the deal and slammed the body for carrying out an "inadequate consultation" on the plan to disclose patient data.
"This lack of consultation has resulted in a situation where data-sharing is taking place in a manner which is incompatible both with the guidance on confidentiality given by the GMC and the NHS Code of Confidentiality," she said. "We find that situation unacceptable."
MPs also argued that the MoU might stop migrants seeking medical help and damage the public's trust in doctor-patient confidentiality.
In its response, published on Wednesday, NHS Digital ignored calls for the data-sharing to stop, with Wilkinson saying, somewhat bluntly: "We will continue to share this very limited set of data with the Home Office."
Wilkinson went on to highlight a number of "misunderstandings" that were raised in the MPs' original letter.
"We would like to confirm the points made in the Ministers' Letter that there appears to be a misunderstanding of the scope of the service: NHS Digital only performs a trace where the person is a suspected immigration offender who is known to, and has ceased contact with, the Home Office," Wilkinson said. "The data is not used to track down, arrest and deport undocumented migrants".
She also said that there is no proven direct link between the deal and any adverse effects on health-seeking behaviour.
MPs confidentiality concerns have also been rejected by Wilkinson, who says while the issue is "taken seriously", NHS Digital has concluded "that the data sharing is lawful and proportionate in relation to the immigration offences" as no medical information is disclosed under the deal.
Wilkinson, which notes that the government commissioned from Public Health England to carry out a review of the MoU that's due in January 2019, concluded: "We do not believe it is in the public interest for us to frustrate the Home Office's function of immigration enforcement by suspending this activity". µ
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