Migrants' Rights Network

Home Office/NHS data-sharing deal: Why MRN will appeal

MRN’s legal challenge against a Home Office/NHS Digital data-sharing agreement has been set back by a judge’s decision not to allow judicial review. MRN intends to appeal through an oral hearing.

by Fabien Cante

Last week, the Honourable Mr Justice Lane put another hurdle in the way of MRN’s legal challenge. According to him, MRN does not have strong enough grounds to bring the data-sharing agreement between NHS Digital, the Home Office and Department of Health, under judicial review. 

However, MRN’s legal counsel has advised that the judge’s decision could be contested on a number of points, and that the initial refusal could be overturned at an oral hearing.

This is not uncommon. Charity Help Refugees initially saw its own legal challenge – against the Home Office’s restrictive interpretation of the Dubs Amendment, opening a path for child refugees to come into the UK – denied. This week, the Court of Appeal has allowed judicial review to go forward on Help Refugees’ claim. 

MRN’s legal effort is thus very much ongoing.  As Fizza Qureshi, director of MRN, explains:

“We are very disappointed by the refusal of permission for the judicial review of the data-sharing agreement between the Home Office, NHS Digital and Department of Health. This case has incredible merit, and continues to have strong public interest grounds. The Health Select Committee recently heard evidence of the deterrence effect of the data-sharing agreement. We will apply to renew the application for permission orally, and are confident of overturning it.”

Dr Jess Potter highlights in a recent article that the data-sharing agreement has a very narrow understanding of “public interest.” She writes: 

“Another important point raised by a representative of the national data guardian’s office was the paramount importance of the public’s trust in our ability to deliver a confidential healthcare service.  As Sarah Wollaston MP pointed out [during the Health Select Committee hearing], in the five paragraphs within the [data-sharing deal] that discuss the public interest, the public’s trust that their own personal health data will remain confidential, is not mentioned once.”

In other words, one of the fundamental reasons for patient confidentiality – that patients can trust medical institutions with their most private data – is not being taken into account.

Dr Potter mentions another reason why the data-sharing agreement ought to be contested: it pushes undocumented and vulnerable migrants away from urgent health care, and in doing so puts the wider public at risk. She writes that damaging public trust in health services and endangering lives are disproportionate harms compared to what would be achieved through the data-sharing agreement. As she puts it:

“From the Home Office’s perspective, committing an immigration offence such as living in the UK without appropriate paperwork constitutes a serious enough offence to justify the routine sharing of data with no scrutiny […].  During the [Health Select Committee] hearing the government claimed that escaping deportation was another crime warranting the use of medical services to track you down.  I find this particularly galling given recent reports demonstrating the harmful and even life-threatening effects of unlimited detention in this country.”  

Like Dr Potter, MRN and its legal counsel see ample grounds on which to challenge the data-sharing agreement. Stay up to date on the latest stage of the process via our CrowdJustice page.    


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Fabien Cante


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