Last week, news emerged of an unfortunate leak of personal patient information in the UK.
For MTV Staying Alive, this hit particularly close to home because it concerns a London-based sexual health clinic.
The 56 Dean Street Clinic sent out a newsletter to patients of their HIV clinic as a group email, rather than blind copying in all recipients. This meant that the names and contact details of nearly 800 people were visible.
It’s clear that this was a total accident and highly unlikely to happen again. The clinic has put it down to human error and apologised profusely. Dean Street recognises just how much of a violation this incident is to service-users who invest great trust in the clinic and visit upon assumption of a high level of confidentiality.
It’s possible that the 56 Dean Street Clinic may now face hefty fines of up to half a million pounds for breaching data regulation. Some news agencies have suggested that the situation should discourage health centres from digitalising information.
Of course, if we want to continue de-stigmatizing HIV and encouraging regular testing, there must be a tight climate of security and confidentiality around testing and treatment. At the same time though, the incident was a rare mistake. Crippling sexual health centres, financially and operationally, will only damage progress in the UK towards treating and preventing the spread of HIV.
While individuals involved with the leak have stressed their understandable anxiety, they’ve also pointed out just how much good the clinic has done for them over the years. They’ve suggested that better funding would go towards a better email system.
It’s extremely important the situation doesn’t shake anyone’s trust in sexual health clinics. Knowing your status is a vital part of being a responsible sexually active individual and clinics like these make it so easy to get tested.
Individuals at the receiving end of the leak have also said that they hope the incident will encourage conversations about HIV. While we have gone some way in de-stigmatising HIV, an individual’s HIV status must remain a totally personal piece of information.
For those who are HIV positive, learning your status is the first step in the journey of learning to live and thrive with the virus. While you should be open about your status with your sexual partners to ensure their protection, deciding whether or not to reveal the information to other individuals or to go public with it is your choice and yours alone.
Let’s use the conversations generating by the unfortunate incident to talk more about the importance of ensuring testing and treatment remains accessible to everyone and to de-stigmatise living with the virus.