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HIV Breach of Confidence, Release of Confidential Data: 56 Dean Street Clinic, London

The BBC led a report about The Dean Street Clinic in error disclosing the names of 780 patients who had attended the Clinic that is part of Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The clinic remit is to provide advice and treatment for people with HIV, sexual health and contraception.

The Trust and Information Commissioners Office (‘ICO’) are investigating the incident. Information in the public domain is that an e-newsletter was sent to patients as a group e-mail rather than blind copying them in. Patients had agreed to receive the newsletter but not on an open group basis because other patients (and potentially a wider group) would know that the patient had consulted the Clinic. The effect of disclosure would be an unauthorised group of people would have email contact details and know a person have sought advice about HIV, sexual health and contraception

IA person’s name and e-mail address are classed as “personal information”. Here the impact of the mistake has serious consequences. Although society is more tolerant of people with HIV, this is not always the case. Generally, people wish to remain private because it could have wider social, cultural and work consequences. Effects could include, not wanting family to know, employers becoming aware with consequences, partners or ex-partners becoming aware the disclosure, victimisation and discrimination. At the worst patients could find themselves a victim of hate crime.

The clinic has obligations under the Data Protection Act 1998 (‘the DPA’) that includes an obligation to “process” patients’ data “fairly and lawfully”. The e-mail sent places the clinic in breach of those obligations. Where breaches are serious the ICO has power to issue penalties of up to £500,000.

Many patients have expressed concern and, depending upon their circumstances, extreme distress. Individuals may have the opportunity for redress depending upon the individual impact. The basis of the claim includes misuse of private information, breach of the DPA and breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (the right to a private life).

The clinic has issued a statement advising concerned patients to call 020 3315 9555 and 020 3315 9594

If you are a victim of hate crime contact the police immediately.