London clinic accidentally reveals the HIV status of 780 patients

56 Dean Street / NHS / YouTube

One of the UK’s leading sexual health clinics has issued an apology after it mistakenly emailed the HIV statuses of 780 patients.

London’s 56 Dean Street clinic sent a newsletter out on Tuesday that contained the names and addresses of HIV patients being treated at the clinic.

Chelsea 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.

“We recalled/deleted the email as soon as we realised what had happened. If it is still in your inbox please delete it immediately.

“Clearly this is completely unacceptable. We are urgently investigating how this has happened and I promise you that we will take steps to ensure it never happens again. We will send you the outcome of the investigation.”

A spokesperson at the clinic has described the data leak as a “human mistake” and that the employee responsible was “distraught.”

The Guardian reports that a friend of a patient whose HIV status and details were exposed during the breach, has complained to the NHS patient advice and liaison service: “This is serious breach of data protection. There are several names I recognise from the list, and while I am of course being discreet, I am not sure I trust every other person on the list to do the same,” he wrote in the complaint.

He added: “I feel bad making this complaint, because I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the excellent service provided by the clinic and my own doctor, Alan McOwan, who has always provided superb clinical care. I have never had cause to complain in the past. However, I feel this is important enough to bring to official attention.”

Significant data breaches can result in fines up to half a million pounds from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

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