A London HIV clinic has launched an investigation after it mistakenly shared the identities of hundreds of HIV positive patients.
An email apology was sent to the recipients of a newsletter sent by the 56 Dean Street clinic in Soho, Central London – one of Britain’s leading sexual health clinics – after it accidentally included the names and email addresses of around 780 patients when it circulated the newsletter on Tuesday.
Patients of the clinic, which is run by the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, can opt in to its OptionE service which allows them to book appointments and receive test results by email. Recipients of the OptionE newsletter would usually be blind-copied into the email, but on this occasion the monthly newsletter was mistakenly sent as a group email, thereby revealing the names and email addresses of every other recipient.
Following the massive privacy breach, the clinic immediately contacted the email recipients to apologise for what it called a “human error”.
Dr Alan McOwan, director for sexual health at the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, has said the breach was “completely unacceptable”, but has sought to make clear that not everybody on the list is HIV positive.
The UK’s data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), has confirmed it is aware of the incident and is making inquiries. For serious breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998, the ICO has the power to fine organisations up to £500,000.
What has happened to those patients is a hugely invasive breach of privacy. Nobody wants their medical records leaked into the public domain, especially when it is information they may not have disclosed to their friends and family.
Everybody has the right to expect that their medical information will be kept private, but on this occasion that trust has been breached in the most dramatic of fashions.
I would advise anyone affected by this to speak to a lawyer about bringing a claim for breach of privacy and under the Data Protection Act against the clinic or anybody else who publishes that information.
If your details were exposed in the 56 Dean Street email, Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer expert legal advice and support for privacy and data protection issues. Call us on freephone 0800 916 9081 or contact us online.