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Health Secretary describes HIV clinic data breach as “completely unacceptable”

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The UK’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has commented following a data breach from a leading London sexual health and HIV clinic.

This week, 56 Dean Street clinic sent a digital newsletter out that contained the names and addresses of 780 HIV patients being treated at the clinicChelsea and Westminster hospital NHS trust’s director for sexual health Dr Alan McOwan sent patients an apology hours after the breach: “I’m writing to apologise to you. This morning at around 11.30am we sent you the latest edition of OptionE newsletter.”

“This is normally sent to individuals on an individual basis but unfortunately we sent out today’s email to a group of email addresses. We apologise for this error.”

The clinic have described the breach as result of a “human error,” with the employee responsible reportedly being “distraught.”

During a Manchester conference, Jeremy explained that patients should be able to feel confident that the NHS services would care for their personal data.

He added: “The truth is that we will throw this all away if we lose the public’s trust in our ability to look after their personal data securely.”

“If we are going to win that trust we need to strengthen the independent oversight of data security within the NHS to a level that we don’t have at the moment.”

The Health Secretary explained that the Care Quality Commission will conduct a “thorough and independent review” of the effectiveness of existing data secure measures within the NHS.

“The truth is that we will throw this all away if we lose the public’s trust in our ability to look after their personal data securely,” he told delegates at NHS England’s annual conference in Manchester.

Of those affected by the breach, one man told the BBC that he “felt sick” on realising the information had been leaked. Speaking to the BBC, one man named in the list said he “felt sick” when he realised what had happened.

He said: “I first saw the email at work but ignored it as I was busy. I then looked at it when I was on the way home from work. I couldn’t breathe.

“I’m concerned who will get this information. If it ends up in the hands of the wrong people, such as hate groups, it could be dynamite.”

The information commissioner’s office (ICO) said it was aware of the incident and was making inquiries. The privacy watchdog can levy fines of up to £500,000 for significant data breaches.

56 Dean Street Clinic was the first in the world to have an on-site Infinity machine, allowing patients to know their HIV test results within 6 hours. The clinic was also the first NHS service to offer rapid 1 hour HIV POC testing.

The clinic has set up a helpline for patients affected by the breach on 020 3315 9555 or 020 3315 9594.

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