Working in IT and dealing with data protection, I tend to see infractions wherever I go. Credit card reciepts left in shops, passwords written on PostIt notes, people accessing online banking on public WiFi etc. But one of the last places I expected to see something like this was my local GP Surgery (for those outside the UK: A GP is a General Practioner (Doctor)).

Let me set the scene for you. It’s a Friday afternoon and I’ve popped into my GP Surgery to talk about some on-going medication. I’m leafing through a year old copy of OK! magazine and trying not to make eye contact with the rather amorous pensioner sat opposite me. I hear some racuous laughter from the reception desk, and being bored (and nosey) I decide to listen in discretely.

To my horror they were discussing a patient, and after only a couple of minutes I knew said patient’s name and which embarassing (and seemingly hilarious) ailment from which they were suffering. Living in a small town I knew exactly which poor soul they were talking about as they have a very distinctive surname. After I’d been in and seeing my doctor, I had to go to reception and make a follow-up appointment. Whilst I was doing so I noticed a stack of files on a desk, to the top one was paperclipped a white form, with the word “menopause” scribbled on it in large scrawl. Clearly visible from where I was standing. If I’d been so inclined I’m sure I could have made out the patients name from the file too.

Thus far I haven’t told my GP of my HIV status, for no other reason than I’ve not visited them since diagnosis and it hasn’t been relevant. But now I don’t see myself ever telling my GP. But I see that it’s important that all my care providers are working together, my GP, my HIV specialist, my therapist, all to give me the best joined-up care to keep me healthy and and happy.

However, I don’t want “HIV” scrawled across a file and left on reception, or gossiping receptionists telling anyone who’s within earshot.  No I don’t have anything to hide, I’m not ashamed of being HIV+, but I have a right to privacy and I don’t see it being respected at that surgery. It only takes a few seconds of idle gossip between two employees for the whole town to suddenly be saying “That Sam has the AIDS!”. Maybe in a more educated time it wouldn’t matter so much, but here we are.

It’s a shame that, in 2012, I have to choose between my privacy and my care.

Peace Out,



  1. Thanks for sharing Sam, that’s a fairly shocking situation to have found yourself in – have you considered perhaps mentioning the issue (of privacy) to someone? If not your GP directly then perhaps an anonymous note to someone relevant in the NHS?

    I’m sure you don’t want to be seen as a busybody, but as you’ve identified the problem you might be able to help stop it happening again in the future, and perhaps other patients won’t have to worry about “haemmoroids” being post-it’d to their own notes!

    • Yeah that’s a difficult one isn’t it. How to bring it to the attention of those responsible without being seen to be interfering or causing trouble. Maybe an anonymous letter to the surgery manager?

  2. Such a fair point Sam although such a shame it even has to be made! The received wisdom among HIV specialists is that – as you say – care should be ‘joined up’ between a patient’s health providers, and it would save NHS time & money not to have HIV patients presenting at their clinic with ailments unrelated to their diagnosis, but until every single GP practise in the country can guarantee proper patient confidentiality, HIV+ people are going to choose not to disclose. I’m a huge fan of the NHS generally and have a great GP so don’t want to knock them, but the healthcare system can’t have it both ways!

  3. I’m so shocked by this and as somebody that works within the ‘caring professions’ I would urge you to write to the practice manager or NHS complaints body Anonymous or not this situation needs not to happen again. This is a gross breach of patient confidentiality and I am very shocked by the malicious nature with which this has occurred.

    I cannot tolerate prejudism and think every matter of discrimination should be challenged.

    I think that multi-professional working is very important however to achieving a holistic care package. Maybe you should change practice?

  4. I’d complain to the doctor or surgery manager. Yes, there’s every chance that the receptionists will figure out the identity of the grass but I would have thought more people would be grateful that someone did something about their gossipping. Living in a small community myself, I know what it’s like when one person, or a group, takes against you, but you’ve got the strength to face that if it ever happens. Surely part of the telling off they’d get would be “and if word gets to my ears that you’ve discussed this conversation with anyone at all, perhaps you’re in the wrong job.”

  5. Thanks for sharing Sam.

    You should make a complaint to the practice manager, patient confidentiality should be maintained at all times.

    I thought your GP would already be aware as NHS link together, any letters which they may have received from consultants etc?

    • You can ask your HIV clinic not to contact your GP and keep it’s records confidential, which I have done thus far – and will continue to do so.

  6. You should have said something to the Practice Manager. Even without going into anything yourself it’s wrong that the staff are discussing notes like this, and allowing patient data to be seen like that.

    Bloody appalling.

  7. This is really rather outrageous. As a medical professional I am shocked by this. Protecting a patients’ privacy is of utmost importance if the trusting relationship between patient and doctor is to be maintained.
    It is important however, that any healthcare provider is aware of your HIV status as this can affect any important management options regarding your health. I would be inclined to speak with the practice manager regarding your concerns about patient confidentiality. I do not think you would be seen as a busybody at all. Anything that you do say should be treated in complete confidence.
    How about bringing this up with your HIV specialist? Perhaps they can write a letter on your behalf, stating that they have a patient who has concerns regarding confidentiality at their practice?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here