The must read stories and biggest talking points in health

Data clash

Last week, HSJ reported that NHS Digital and the Home Office have signed an agreement allowing confidential patient information to be shared to trace suspected illegal immigrants.

But on Wednesday, former NHS Digital chair Kingsley Manning revealed that patient data, similar to the information now being shared under the agreement, had been passed on to the Home Office since “at least” 2005.

He said he repeatedly challenged the Home Office under Theresa May over the legality of sharing confidential patient information to find illegal immigrants.

Mr Manning, who was chair from 2013 to 2016, 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’.”

He said that when he 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”.

A joint statement issued by the Home Office, the DH and NHS Digital responded: “We are absolutely committed to transparency and robust legal frameworks relating to data sharing… The new memorandum of understanding which we have openly published makes it clear that no clinical information will be shared.”

DH jobs shake-up

In a move that has flabbergasted some readers, the Department of Health has confirmed it is going to recruit around 200 new staff – just a few weeks after saying 538 civil servants are taking voluntary redundancy.

The outgoing DH staffers are due to leave Richmond House by April, as part of the post-spending review cost cutting drive in which the DH has to reduce its running costs by 30 per cent by 2020.

The surprise recruitment progrmme emerged during the appearance of health secretary Jeremy Hunt at the Commons health committee last month, alongside Paul Macnaught, the DH’s director of EU and international issues, but was confirmed this week.

A DH spokeswoman said the extra staff were being recruited to allow the department to deliver on its priorities by ensuring it had adequate numbers of people with the right skills.

She added that the DH was working on preparations for Brexit and this was dispersed across teams but not all the new recruits would work solely on Brexit.