People in England who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace could have their details passed to police.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed details would be shared on a “case-by-case” basis to give police information on whether an individual has been told to self-isolate.
In England those who have been told to self-isolate after a positive test are required to do so by law.
Data of those who have been asked to self-isolate will be shared with “appropriate safeguards” and will not include health data, DHSC said.
The British Medical Association said it was concerned police having access to data would deter people from getting tested.
The DHSC updated its online guidance about how Covid-19 testing data would be used on Friday (16 October).
“A police force may request information relating to positive Covid-19 tests from the NHS Test & Trace programme directly, where they are investigating a report of someone who may not be complying with the mandatory self-isolation period,” the guidance states.
If a local authority has reason to believe an individual is not complying with the legal requirement to self-isolate “without reasonable justification” they may “pass this information on to local police forces to investigate further”.
It could result in people being fined for breaking self-isolation rules. Those who fail to follow the guidance face fines starting at £1,000 and increasing to £10,000 for repeat offenders or serious breaches.
A spokesperson for the DHSC said: “It is a legal requirement for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their close contacts to self-isolate when formally notified to do so.
“The Department of Health and Social Care has agreed a memorandum of understanding with the National Police Chiefs Council to enable police forces to have access on a case-by-case basis to information that enables them to know if a specific individual has been notified to self-isolate.
“The memorandum of understanding ensures that information is shared with appropriate safeguards and in accordance with the law. No testing or health data is shared in this process.”
If police become aware of a person breaching self-isolation rules they will be able to request further information from NHS Test and Trace to establish if that person has been told to self-isolate and the dates they are required to do so.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson said: “Policing continues to play its part in helping limit the spread of coronavirus. We will continue to encourage voluntary compliance but will enforce regulations and issue FPNs where appropriate and necessary.
“Where people fail to self-isolate and refuse to comply officers can issue FPNs and direct people to return to self-isolation. Officers will engage with individuals to establish their circumstances, using their discretion wherever it is reasonable to do so.”
‘A disastrous policy’
Public health officials and privacy campaigners denounced the move, first reported by Health Service Journal, suggesting it would cause further distrust in the government.
The British Medical Association has warned the move could undermine trust deter people from getting tested.
“For the test and trace system to be effective it needs to have the full confidence of the public, with transparency about the appropriate and secure use of their data,” a spokesperson said.
“We are already concerned that some people are deterred from being tested because they are anxious about loss of income should they need to self-isolate – and we are worried should police involvement add to this.”
Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London and member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours said on Twitter one of the key barriers to people downloading the NHS Covid-19 App is “distrust in how the government would use the data… this is a disastrous policy”.
The evidence is strong that one of the key barriers to people downloading the app is distrust in how the Govt would use the data. And a key barrier to people not informing contact tracers of their contact is the same. This is a disastrous policy. https://t.co/KMww1yFXT0
— Susan Michie (@SusanMichie) October 18, 2020
John Drury, social psychologist at the University of Sussex who specialises in collective behaviour also took to Twitter to say “resorting to coercion is a failure of public engagement and is a poor solution”.
Self-isolation for #COVID__19 has always been a problem.
Resorting to coercion is a failure of public engagement and is a poor solution.
A thread of evidence and alternatives. 1/6https://t.co/zBGRfyWch1
— John Drury (@ProfJohnDrury) September 20, 2020
In the last parliament @CommonsHealth fought long & hard to stop the sharing of address data from health records with home office. Hope that MPs investigate & stop this happening with your personal data from test & trace with the police.
— Sarah Wollaston (@sarahwollaston) October 17, 2020