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.
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.