BY JAMES TWOMEY
An NHS Trust has been criticised for sharing patient information with a credit reference company to find out whether they qualify for free healthcare.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS trust has come under fire from Med Confidential, a patient data privacy organisation, for sharing its patient data, including name, address, date of birth and NHS number, with credit reference company Experian.
The move was designed to help the NHS find out whether
overseas visitors were entitled to access services.
Phill Booth, co-ordinator of Med Confidential, said: “Why were patients not informed? People attending these hospitals were not made aware their data was being shared. That in itself is deeply disturbing.”
A spokesman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: “We do have a notice on our website about sharing some information with non-NHS organisations.”
Trust documents seen by publication Health Service Journal show Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust has been running a scheme with Experian since at least 2015.
The trust is responsible for hospital services at Lewisham Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Greenwich.
The documents also show that legal advice and data protection impact assessments had not been conducted and the NHS improvement department said trusts should conduct their own.
Mr Booth added: “What we can tell from these documents is they were trying to spot people without a credit footprint.
“This is highly discriminatory and will affect the poor, the disadvantaged and vulnerable older people who don’t use credit cards. And overseas visitors.
“The documents also show no data protection assessments or equalities assessments. It’s one thing trying to recoup money but it still needs compliance with the law.
“It has to raise the question: did the trust do any legal assessments?
“Patients should not be having these details referred to an agency just because they turned up at the trust. Everyone has the right to be informed of what details will be sent to agencies.
“This is not in the spirit of the NHS.”
A spokesman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust added: “It is important to stress that Experian do not carry out a credit check, but look at many sources to see whether patients are economically active in the UK.
“This is one of several indicators to help check that patients are UK residents and eligible for care which is free at the point of access, in a non-discriminatory way.”
An Experian spokesman said: “Experian currently works with one NHS trust to help them verify the identity of patients.
“The Trust submits lists of patient details in order for us to cross reference and check whether they are residents in the UK, and therefore eligible for services.
“This process is similar to most standard residency checking services.
“The information used in this process is subject to strict industry guidelines, and it is not used for any other purpose than helping the NHS trust identify potential overseas patients, who may be required to pay for treatment under NHS guidelines.”