A deal between the NHS and the Home Office to trace immigration offenders is putting pregnant women and modern slavery victims at risk, MPs have been warned.
Health experts told Parliament’s health committee of the dangers of the data-sharing agreement, saying many migrants in need of healthcare are too scared to see a GP for fear of deportation.
Migrant domestic workers in abusive employment have suffered because they were too frightened to seek medical help, according to Marissa Begonia, the coordinator at Voices of Domestic Workers, with at least one recorded death.
Some are turning up at A&E wards, where they do not need to hand over personal information, the committee heard.
Dr Lucinda Hiam, a GP with Doctors of the World, told the committee: Just this morning, somebody who was eight weeks pregnant was on the phone to our line in tears saying she was too scared to go to the GP, she was too scared to go to an antenatal clinic.
Last week, we had a woman who was 17 weeks pregnant who wouldn’t even give us her address – so we’re trying to help her access healthcare, and we can’t even do it [ourselves] because she’s too scared of us.
We often see pregnant women going to A&E, where they don’t have to give their details, and use that as a route for healthcare.
This method of accessing healthcare is much more expensive for the NHS than seeking appropriate, timely antenatal care, said Dr Hiam.
The data the Home Office is accessing is reached through NHS Digital, which runs the health service’s IT systems, rather than doctors.
Patient confidentiality means that their information should only be shared in cases of serious crime such as rape and murder, and does not cover immigration offences.
But witnesses giving evidence to the committee claimed this confidentiality was being breached by NHS Digital.
Yusef Azad, director of strategy at the National AIDS Trust, told the MPs that NHS Digital was operating to a lower standard of confidentiality than the rest of the NHS.
Patients’ rights organisation medConfidential told Sky News: The price of any perceived breach of confidentiality is paid by GPs dealing with the problems that show up in their surgeries as they spread to everyone.
That the Government has forgotten about the importance of public health is not only politically paranoid and lacking perspective, but puts the entire population at risk by being penny-pinching but pound foolish.
Data published in October revealed that police are failing modern-day slavery victims, with a conviction rate of less than 2% for the 1,265 offences reported between April 2015 and March 2017.
This month, banks also began to undertake immigration checks on millions of accounts as part of a Home Office scheme to create a hostile environment for people living in the UK unlawfully.
(c) Sky News 2018: Pregnant and ill migrants ‘too scared to see a doctor,’ health experts warn