London's LGBT community was rocked yesterday with the news that sexual health clinic 56 Dean Street had accidentally shared the names and email addresses of around 780 of its patients in a group email. Despite early reports that all are HIV patients - the breach thereby disclosing their HIV status on a public forum - Dean Street have clarified that many of those on the email list are not.
While it is a major breach of privacy that needs proper investigation to ensure it doesn't happen again, it can't negate the tireless work 56 Dean Street has done for London's LGBT community. Here, writer Patrick Cash (pictured at right) reflects on the vital role the clinic plays...
being the person who pressed 'send'.
I imagine horror would have been their immediate reaction. But not horror on their own behalf, horror on behalf of their patients. I don't know for sure: I can only make an educated guess based on my knowledge of those who work at 56 Dean Street.
It's no secret that I've recently written a play based on the clinic
. When the news hit the headlines yesterday, I thought I should keep silent. I can hardly make an unbiased cry. But then a phrase written by Greg Owen earlier resonated with me: 'Dean Street need our love and support now.'
As a society, in our media, we ignore what should give us pride and are so ready with salivating fangs to expose and shame.
Whenever I've felt vulnerable about my sex life, and about my own risk of HIV, I've gone to Dean Street: not just for testing, but also for compassion.
When I was alone in Soho and a friend came to me so high and without sleep he was on psychosis, I took him to Dean Street. Because a few years ago, they took the unprecedented step of appointing David Stuart their Lead Substance Use Advisor to help the chemsex casualties of London. At the CODE Clinic they've treated thousands of patients, and patched lives back together... But I missed that story becoming a headline on BBC News.
When I had the honour of interviewing Dean Street workers for the play, they shared some views I won't forget:
"The best thing about working for the NHS," said one worker, who I spoke to in a clinician room itself, "is it's just: 'what's best for this patient?' I'd hate to work for the private sector where I have to think: "okay, I'm going to see you but what can I do to make money out of you?" Here, you can give care based solely on that individual, and I think that's priceless.
"What gives me hope? My patients. My patients are amazing people."
And then I spoke to the nurse who worked with HIV patients in the 1980s, when he was 20. Who volunteered to look after the first AIDS patient himself, when no one else would. Who angrily shooed away the other staff, when they came to stare at that patient through the window. Who made that patient cry by accepting and eating a piece of his food... Because at the time, no one else would touch it. Who nursed all the other HIV patients and became friends with them, and made them laugh, and then would have to wrap their bodies in biohazard tape in the morgue. Who was treated himself for post-traumatic stress disorder in the 90s. Who still commits himself every day, and cares so passionately about the health of his community.
These are the people who work at Dean Street.
And when I spoke to people living with HIV who used Dean Street, and asked them how they viewed their relationship with these workers, the most common response was always: 'friends.'
That's why I imagine whoever sent that email would have reacted with horror, on behalf of their patients.
Words by PATRICK CASH.