A medical practice in England intended to text its patients wishes for a “very merry Christmas.” Instead, the mass text told patients they had “aggressive lung cancer” that had spread and asked them to fill out a form for terminal patients.
The mass text from Askern Medical Practice in Doncaster was sent out on December 23, according to the BBC. In it, the practice says that the doctor has asked the recipient to fill out a form DS1500 – which according another U.K. hospital system is meant for people who have a terminal illness to apply for benefits. The text also tells recipients they have been diagnosed with “aggressive lung cancer with metastases.”
In a second text, patients were asked to accept the center’s “sincere apologies.”
“This has been sent in error,” it states. “Our message to you should have read We wish you a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
The center, which has roughly 8,000 patients according to the BBC, has not publicly commented on the mishap. The practice’s last news release, issued in September, recognized the “excellent feedback from patients regarding telephone consultations.”
Carl Chegwin told the BBC that his mother was one of the patients who received the text.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘is this some kind of sick joke?” Chegwin said. “It completely took me by surprise. … They’ve just told people a few days before Christmas they’ve got terminal lung cancer. They can’t do that.”
Another woman who asked not to be named told the outlet that the text made her “very worried,” as some of her family members had recently undergone tests for chest issues. She also saw several other people panicking about the message.
“I rang the doctors but on hold as usual. So I walked round as I live around the corner and there were, I’d say, six people all there panicking as they had got the same text,” she said.
The National Health Service of the U.K., which oversees publicly funded health care, has also not commented on the situation. The same day the texts went out, the service unrelatedly tweeted, “Be kind to yourself if you are grieving,” alongside information about how to cope with grief during the holiday season.
“What if the message was meant for someone, and then they are told it’s a Christmas message, then again told, ‘oh no, that was actually meant for you,'” Chegwin said. “If it’s one of their admins that’s sent out a mass text, I wouldn’t be trusting them to empty the bins.”