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A U.K. medical office mistakenly sent patients a text message with a cancer diagnosis

A man walks past a National Health Service sign in 2007 in London. The NHS offers services at the Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster, whose patients mistakenly received text messages informing them of a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.
Cate Gillon
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Getty Images
A man walks past a National Health Service sign in 2007 in London. The NHS offers services at the Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster, whose patients mistakenly received text messages informing them of a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.

Carl Chegwin was getting in the holiday spirit by watching the movie The Santa Clause on Christmas Eve when he says he got a text message from his U.K. doctor's office diagnosing him with "aggressive lung cancer."

He sat there in shock until he was able to show the message to his mom, who also received the same text from an "NHS-NoReply" number. National Health Service England (NHS) offers general practitioner services at Chegwin and his mother's doctor's office — the Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster.

Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster, England, mistakenly sent Christmas Eve text messages to patients saying they had lung cancer.
/ Carl Chegwin
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Carl Chegwin
Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster, England, mistakenly sent Christmas Eve text messages to patients saying they had lung cancer.

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."

About 20 minutes later, the "NHS-NoReply" number messaged: "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."

Chegwin said he had never received a message from Askern Medical Practice wishing him a merry Christmas in his approximately 30 years as a patient.

"To me, that apology, it's not even an apology," he said. "It's kind of an arrogant, nonchalant, handwaving."

A spokesperson from NHS England refused to take any questions related to the incident and redirected NPR to NHS's email. Askern Medical Practice was not available for immediate comment.

The initial message 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.

While neither Chegwin nor his mother were expecting a test result for cancer, others who received the same message were. It is not clear how many people the text messages were sent to.

Chegwin said he would not be returning to the practice after this incident.

"That kind of thing breaks people and drives people to despair," he said.

Chegwin said he has not received further communication from the practice since the Dec. 24 text messages.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.