Kingsley Manning said he was challenged for “daring” to question if there was a legal basis for handing over confidential patient data which would help the Home Office trace suspected illegal immigrants.
Last month, the Home Office published an agreement showing the basis by which information can be requested from NHS Digital.
But Mr Manning said the NHS body has been forced to hand over data that the Home Office would find useful since “at least” 2005, sometimes to junior officials who would just “ring up” and ask for it.
In an interview with the Health Service Journal (HSJ), Mr Manning said: “We said to the Home Office ‘We need to understand what the legal basis of this is’.
“The Home Office response was ‘How dare you even question our right to this information? This is data that belongs to the public. It is paid for by the taxpayer. We should use it for public policy’.”
When Mr Manning launched a review to establish a clear legal framework for the data- sharing, there was an “enormous reluctance from both the Home Office and the Department of Health to clarify any element of this process”, he said.
“The Home Office view was that tracing illegal immigrants was a manifesto commitment.
“If I didn’t agree to co-operate (with the sharing of patient data) they would simply take the issue to Downing Street.”
The new agreement announced last month has “maximised” Home Office powers “to the absolute limit”, Mr Manning said.
He added: “All the Home Office has to say now is ‘We have lost track of this individual’, and NHS Digital will have to hand over confidential patient information, such as the patient’s name, gender, date of birth, last registered address and area details of their GP.
“There is no provision for transparency, no provision for oversight or scrutiny, and there is no role for the National Data Guardian.
“Nor is there any provision to alert patients to the possibility that information from their NHS patient record could be passed on to the Home Office.”
Mr Manning said he had become “deeply concerned” once he took the helm of the NHS body in 2013 that data had been handed over since at least 2005.
The Guardian: May pressured NHS to release data to track immigration offenders