A leading British HIV clinic has apologised after revealing the identities of hundreds of HIV-positive patients by mistake.
The 56 Dean Street clinic in London, one of Europe’s busiest sexual health centres, sent a newsletter on Tuesday disclosing the names and email addresses of about 780 recipients.
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The clinic, which is run by the Chelsea and Westminster NHS trust, apologised shortly after sending the email and on Wednesday pledged to investigate how the breach occurred.
Britain’s data protection watchdog is likely to launch an investigation into the privacy breach, thought to be one of the biggest of its kind. The health secreatry, Jeremy Hunt, called the mistake “completely unacceptable”.
The newsletter was sent to about 780 patients who had signed up to its Option E service, which allows people to book appointments and receive test results by email. Instead of hiding the personal details of those on its recipient list, it included their full names and email addresses.
One HIV patient whose details were exposed by the email said the NHS now has “no way of controlling who sees this information now and, in the wrong hands, this list could be dynamite”.
He told the Guardian: “I have been a patient at 56 Dean Street since moving to London five years ago and I have always trusted them with my information. OptionE is a service set up for patients who are stable and on long term HIV treatment. It is designed to make life easier so your results, etc, are sent via email.
“I find it impossible to believe that in this day and age this can happen. I was able to scroll down the list and identify the names of a number of people who I knew, some of whom I was unaware of their status.”
Rob Sherrard, an HIV patient who has attended 56 Dean Street for two and a half years, said it would be “tragic if this incident overshadowed all the amazing work they do” at the clinic.
“The level of care, service I’ve received has been second to none,” Sherrard said. “I’ve always been treated like an individual and every member of staff I’ve dealt with has at some point gone the extra mile for me. It’s human error, and could’ve happened to anyone. I hope the individual responsible will be forgiven.”
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