A sexual health and HIV clinic in London has accidentally revealed the names and email addresses of 780 patients. The clinic, 56 Dean Street, sent a group email by mistake, rather than blind-copying patients into the email.
Following the data breach they released a statement saying:
“We can confirm that due to an administrative error, a newsletter about services at 56 Dean Street was sent to an email group rather than individual recipients. We have immediately contacted all the email recipients to inform them of the error and apologise.”
They also provided a number for concerned patients to call, and urged that not everyone who had received the email had HIV.
If you’re worried you can call 020 3315 9555 and 020 3315 9594 to speak to a member of our team.
— 56 Dean Street (@56deanstreet) September 2, 2015
Many of the clinic’s patients have since come forward and spoken to the media, with several expressing their worries of potential repercussions if the email along with the recipient’s details are shared online.
One of the patients who received the email told The Guardian that there is “no way of controlling who sees this information now and, in the wrong hands, this list could be dynamite”.
Any sort of leak involving confidential or sensitive information is bound to be very distressing for the people who are involved. Yet, as HIV is still very heavily stigmatised, lots of HIV patients only choose to disclose their HIV status to a very limited amount of people close to them. Making this leak even more so distressing, and making it so important that a thorough investigation takes place to ensure something like this never happens again.
While this data breach isn’t acceptable, lots of people on Twitter have recognised the vital and groundbreaking treatments and services the clinic provides.
Worried for future of @56deanstreet funding after yday. Whilst an unacceptable error, they are leading the way on innovation & patient care.
— Colum McGuire (@ColumMcGuire) September 3, 2015
We wanted to say after a bad day that @56deanstreet are truly amazing heroes of Londons gay scene. We send love to them + anyone affected
— Attitude (@AttitudeMag) September 2, 2015
Yes, @56deanstreet have made an absolutely massive error but they do incredible, valuable, necessary work – let’s remember that as well.
— Ryan Nelson (@RyanJohnNelson) September 2, 2015
As Europe’s busiest sexual health and HIV clinic, 56 Dean Street is a leader in sexual health care and services, particularly for the LGBT community. It was the first clinic of its kind to have an on-site Infinity machine in the world, something which provides HIV test results in 6 hours. Although what has happened is completely unacceptable, the great work of this clinic shouldn’t be completely ignored or be allowed to be overshadowed by this data breach.
If anything, this breach highlights the need and importance of fighting HIV stigma. Something which has been emphasised further in the criticisms aimed at Kay Burley, for her use of archaic language in this tweet:
Aids clinic which revealed patients names: Clearly this is completely unacceptable. We are urgently investigating how this has happened
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) September 2, 2015
Describing 56 Dean Street as an ‘Aids clinic’ has unsurprisingly caused a backlash against Burley, and HIV activists have been calling her out for her use of stigmatising language.
— Michael. (@scotinthecity) September 2, 2015
— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) September 2, 2015
@KayBurley it’s called HIV, welcome to 2015.
— Steve H (@srheywood) September 2, 2015
This data breach is incredibly unfortunate and should never have happened. Procedures need to be put in place to ensure this can never happen again. However, there are other lessons that need to be learnt from this, I believe it is important that people look at and recognise the stigma surronding HIV that is still in place today. Despite the many developments that have been made and the progress of actually fighting the virus there is still a huge HIV stigma, and it is this stigma that needs fighting just as much as the virus itself.
— Matthew Hodson (@Matthew_Hodson) September 3, 2015
— Daddy Michael XXX (@wizzyphoto) September 3, 2015