Medical ethics: UK uses data from doctors to find migrants

In this photo taken on March 23, 2018, Farooq, who declined to give his last name poses for a portrait outside a health surgery in London. (AP)
Updated 02 April 2018
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Medical ethics: UK uses data from doctors to find migrants

LONDON: 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 data-sharing deal, saying it could worsen the health of vulnerable people and drive disease outbreaks underground, hurting health care for all.
Dalia Omer, a refugee from Sudan who was granted asylum in the UK in February after nearly two years, sought medical help several times while awaiting the government’s decision. She said had she known about the data sharing arrangement, she would not have been as forthcoming.
“If I knew the doctors could share information with the Home Office, I would not tell them everything,” she said, referring to the British department that oversees immigration and security. She said she might even lie about certain details to protect herself.
Dr. Kitty Worthing, a London-based doctor with the group Docs Not Cops, said “the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship is confidentiality and this data-sharing is a direct breach of that.” She said when she’s advised people that their personal information could be shared with immigration officials “their reaction is always fear.”
Elsewhere in Europe, many countries have a strict firewall that stops information gathered by health services from being disclosed to other government agencies. Germany’s data protection office said regulations prohibit any blanket sharing of such information. In France, no data obtained by doctors is shared with the Interior Ministry.
Some health experts said it was critical that some types of health care are available to everyone in the UK, regardless of their immigration status.
“With HIV treatment, it makes much more sense to treat everybody with HIV, because treatment lowers the level of virus in your blood so you can’t pass it on,” said Kat Smithson of the National AIDS Trust. “If people are not diagnosed because they’re not accessing health care, they’re not aware they’re living with HIV, which means they’re far more likely to pass it on to somebody else.”
The British government, however, says protecting its borders outweighs those concerns.
“We believe that the release of (patient) information is lawful and proportionate action in pursuit of the effective enforcement of the UK’s immigration policy,” wrote Caroline Noakes, the minister of state for immigration and James O’Shaughnessy, parliamentary undersecretary of state for health, responding to lawmaker’s concerns.


US not renewing sanctions waivers for importing Iranian oil, working with Saudi Arabia and UAE

Updated 30 min 52 sec ago
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US not renewing sanctions waivers for importing Iranian oil, working with Saudi Arabia and UAE

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said the US would be ending sanction waivers for countries importing Iranian oil, increasing economic pressure on the regime, according to a White House Statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to discuss the move at the State Department Monday morning. The decision means sanctions waivers for five nations, including China and India and U.S. treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey, will not be renewed when they expire on May 2.

The statement said that the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had "agreed to take timely action to assure that global demand is met as all Iranian oil is removed from the market."

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said on Monday that he believed global oil markets would be able to handle the US decision to force buyers of Iranian oil to either end imports or face sanctions, despite Monday's surge in oil prices.

"I think that the global oil markets are poised to be able to deal with this," Kevin Hassett said in an interview with CNBC. 

The move comes as the administration toughens its already strict penalties on Iran by trying to choke off all the revenue the country makes from oil sales.

The waivers had been in place since November, when the administration re-imposed sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

They were granted in part to give those countries time to eliminate their purchases of Iranian oil but also to ease any impact on global energy markets with the abrupt removal of Iran's production.

Pompeo says now that production increases elsewhere will make up for the loss of Iranian oil on the market.

(With Agencies)