Doctor’s Office Mistakingly Sends Terminal Cancer Diagnosis Text Messages To Patients On Christmas Eve

The UK's NHS mistakenly sent out a terminal cancer diagnosis text message to patients when they intended to send out a text wishing everyone a happy holiday season.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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The holidays can be stressful enough on their own, even though the season should get filled with joy. But imagine getting a cancer diagnosis text message on Christmas Eve to add to your stress levels. Unfortunately, that is the shocking news some UK patients received.

Some patients at the Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster got a surprising text on Christmas Eve. They received an “aggressive lung cancer” diagnosis text message from “an ‘NHS-NoReply’ number.” NHS is the National Health Service England and, according to NPR, it “offers general practitioner services” at Askern Medical Practice.

That text “falsely diagnosing patients with terminal lung cancer asked them to fill out a DS1500 form, which allows people with terminal diseases to claim certain benefits.” There is no indication of how many patients received a cancer diagnosis text message. However, at least some of the recipients were awaiting cancer screening results.

The NHS quickly released its mistake. In less than 30 minutes, they followed up with a subsequent text. It read, “Please accept our sincere apologies for the previous text message sent.”

“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,” the text continued. It seems that the NHS was hoping the apology text would smooth out the waters.

But NPR spoke with one recipient of the cancer diagnosis text message, Carl Chegwin. The news initially shocked Chegwin until he talked with his mom. It turned out that she had gotten the identical text. 

“After realizing he wasn’t the only one to receive the message he began to question the text, wondering if it was ‘some sort of sick joke.'” And the apology text did nothing to assuage his anger over the faulty cancer diagnosis text message. According to Chegwin, he had been a patient at the Askern Medical Practice for nearly 30 years and had never received a Merry Christmas note. 

“To me, that apology, it’s not even an apology,” he said. “It’s kind of an arrogant, nonchalant, handwaving.” And no one can blame him for feeling that way. 

To have a peaceful Christmas Eve rocked by such devastating medical news is bad enough. But to then learn it was all a mistake is even worse. Chegwin said, “That kind of thing breaks people and drives people to despair.”

He has not heard anything further from the NHS since the apology text. However, he plans to find a new practice after the holidays. And that reaction is completely understandable.

NPR attempted to reach out to Askern Medical Practice about the cancer diagnosis text message. No one was available for comment. Attempts at contacting NHS were almost as unsuccessful.

The publication noted, “A spokesperson from NHS England refused to take any questions related to the incident and redirected NPR to NHS’s email.” So it looks like the National Health Service won’t publicly admit to the error. However, sweeping the problem under the rug doesn’t give patients the answers they deserve.