• Lewisham and Greenwich Trust says patient data should not have been shared with Experian
  • Local politicians were updated on trust’s actions after process was revealed by HSJ in September 
  • Panel to review process of charging patients who are not eligible for NHS care

A trust director has said he “struggles to defend the logic” behind the decision to routinely share patients’ identities with a major credit check firm.

In September HSJ revealed Lewisham and Greenwich Trust had been handing patient information to Experian since at least 2015 in order to help identify overseas visitors who could be charged for healthcare.

Use of the system was suspended in September and the trust is now carrying out an independent-led review of processes.

NHS trusts are required by law to charge patients who are not ordinarily residents of the UK for treatment, as part of government plans to tackle health tourism.

Last week, during a meeting of Lewisham Council’s healthier communities select committee local politicians were updated on action taken by the trust since the scandal came to light.

Director of integrated care and development at LGT Jim Lusby said the trust took the decision to carry out checks on everyone in order to avoid discrimination.

But he added: “In hindsight it was not the right choice. In all honesty I struggle to defend the logic of this”, according to local media.

Information handed over to the company included a patient’s name, address, date of birth, NHS number, email and phone number.

Experian would then carry out checks to establish whether the person has a credit footprint in the UK, and therefore is likely to be a resident and eligible for free NHS treatment. If not, the trust would carry out further eligibility checks and potentially issue charges.

An independent review, commissioned by the trust, is currently underway to investigate the data sharing processes that are currently in place and establish whether patients were sufficiently informed about the use of their information.

The trust suspended the use of Experian in September and a panel has been set up to review the process of charging patients who are not eligible for NHS treatment, according to a trust spokesman.

The spokesman told HSJ: “This panel has an independent chair [former NHS leader Peter Gluckman] and includes representatives from the local boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich, NHS Improvement, Healthwatch, Lewisham Migrant and Refugee Forum, and the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, as well as senior staff from the trust.

“The first meeting of the panel takes place on 27 January 2020.

“We continue to use standard NHS methods for identifying in a non-discriminatory way if patients may not be eligible for free healthcare.

“This includes using the Department of Health and Social Care’s ‘message exchange for social care and health’ tool.”