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

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.


Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

Updated 22 August 2019

Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

  • The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday
  • Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month

DOHA: The US and the Taliban met in Doha on Thursday, an American source close to the talks said, for potentially decisive dialogue to allow Washington to drawdown militarily in Afghanistan.
The source said the talks started around 1300 GMT — the ninth time the two foes have met face-to-face.
The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday, blasts rocked Jalalabad Monday, and the death toll from a weekend wedding bombing reached 80.
Washington’s top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller was at the talks venue, according to an AFP correspondent.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.
Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls due in 2020.
Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai told AFP Thursday that overall talks had been “going well.”
The talks are expected to focus on establishing a timeline for the US withdrawal of its more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been there for 18 years, it’s ridiculous,” US President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday.
“We are negotiating with the government and we are negotiating with the Taliban,” he said.
“We have good talks going and we will see what happens.”
But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Afghanistan’s incumbent administration remain unresolved.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad sought to bolster optimism for a peace agreement last week when he said in a tweet that he hoped this is the final year that the country is at war.