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Patients wrongly told they've got cancer in SMS snafu

We wish you a very merry chemo and a happy new year

Askern Medical Practice, a general practitioner surgery based in Doncaster, UK, managed to muddle its Christmas holiday message to patients by texting them they'd been diagnosed with "aggressive lung cancer with metastases."

The message went out to patients of the medical facility – there are reportedly about 8,000 of them – on December 23, 2022. It asked patients to fill out a DS1500 form, which is used to help terminal patients expedite access to benefits because they may not have time for the usual bureaucratic delay.

About an hour after thoroughly alarming recipients of the not-so-glad tidings, the medical facility reportedly apologized in a follow-up text message.

"Please accept our sincere apologies for the previous text message sent," the message reads, as reported by the BBC. "This has been sent in error. Our message to you should have read, 'We wish you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.' In case of emergency please contact NHS 111."

On Tuesday, the surgery took its apology public via its Facebook page.

"While no data was breached, we can confirm an admin staff error was made, for which we apologized immediately upon becoming aware," Askern Medical Practice said in its post. "We would like to once again apologize sincerely to all patients for the distress caused. We take patient communication, confidentiality and data protection very seriously."

The surgery characterized the errant text message as both an administrative error and a computer-related error, without clarifying just how the mistake occurred.

"We also pride in looking after our patients," the medical facility's apology continued. "We would like to reassure all our patients that the text message was a mistake (it was an internal patient supportive task amongst admin staff to act upon) and not related to you as a patient in any way. This was an isolated computer-related error for which we are extremely regretful, and steps are being taken to prevent a reoccurrence."

Askern Medical Practice did not immediately respond to an inquiry to clarify how the clerical-computer snafu had occurred.

According to a 2018 UK survey study published in BMJ Quality & Safety, about a quarter (~23 percent) of 2,471 patients raised concerns about their care at the National Health Service. Among the 1,155 incident reports provided by 579 patients, "'Communication' was the most frequently occurring category with a total of 251 patient incident reports (~22 percent)," the study says. ®

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