Pharmacy2U kept no records of whose data they sold

Addendum to press release

Pharmacy2U kept no records or audit trail of whose data they sold, stating “we are unable to contact individual patients.”  EMIS Group, a minority shareholder in Pharmacy2U Ltd, stated yesterday, “The decision to sell data was made by the executive day-to-day management team at Pharmacy2U”, while claiming the “highest standards of patient confidentiality and data security”.

The ICO’s judgement states:

49. It is possible that some customers, who received marketing material from Woods Supplements, after being prescribed medication by a doctor, may have stopped taking their prescribed medication and spent money on products that were subject to the ASA adjudication in relation to misleading advertising and unauthorised health claims.

The choice of Pharmacy2U to sell names and addresses of patients to quacks and charlatans must be addressed. “As a responsible company, we undertook due diligence to check that the organisations intending to use the data were reputable”, say Pharmacy2U, but they still sold data to “spammy” companies that may have encouraged patients not to take medicines prescribed to them (and which they had paid Pharmacy2U for).

medConfidential received the following statement from Pharmacy2U’s media and PR representatives, ‘Intelligent Conversation’ – the new name for the same PR firm that contacted us previously, see the Update from April this year.

We publish Pharmacy2U’s statement in full:

Daniel Lee, Managing Director of Pharmacy2U, said: “This is a regrettable incident for which we sincerely apologise.  

“While we are grateful that the ICO recognise that our breach was not deliberate, we appreciate this was a serious matter. As soon as the issue was brought to our attention, we stopped the trial selling of customer data and made sure that the information that had been passed on was securely destroyed.

“We have also confirmed that we will no longer sell customer data.

“We take our responsibilities to the public very seriously and want to reassure our customers that no medical information, email addresses or telephone numbers were sold. Only names and postal addresses were given, for one-time use.

“As a responsible company, we undertook due diligence to check that the organisations intending to use the data were reputable. There was no publicly available information at the time to suggest that the lottery company was suspected of any wrongdoing and we have confirmed with the relevant authorities that they were validly licensed.  There was no publicly available information at the time that there had been a complaint to the ASA about Healthy Marketing Ltd.

“Following this incident, we have changed our privacy policy to highlight that we will no longer sell customer data and have implemented a prior consent model for our own marketing. We have also worked with the Plain English Campaign to make our policies as clear as possible to our customers.

“We hope that this substantial remedial action will reassure our customers that we have learned from this incident and will continue to do all we can to ensure that their data is protected to the highest level.”

The ICO’s judgement shows, while the data transferred may have been a list of names and addresses, the information received by the companies and charity was far more than that. For example, in the case of the Australian lottery scammers, they would have known that each name and address on that list was of a man (i.e. gender), aged 70 or over (i.e. age), who had made a purchase (financially active) from an online pharmacy in the past 6 months (with certain conditions)

Pharmacy2U’s “substantial remedial action” does not include informing any of the 21,500 patients and customers whose names and address was sold – as for example, the Government did when it lost two CDs containing HMRC Child Benefit data.

So we asked them about it.

This was the response:

A Pharmacy2u spokesman said: “As soon as the issue was brought to our attention, we ordered the certificated destruction of all the names and addresses that had been sold. [Our emphasis] For that reason, we are unable to contact individual patients.

“Anyone with concerns should contact us on 0113 265 0222 or via email,

We are pleased that Pharmacy2U has (finally) provided contact details for patients and customers who may have been affected by them selling their details, though these seem not to have been published in a way concerned members of the public can easily find them. We got them in an email, and P2U’s online statement directs people to their standard customer feedback form.

However, we are astonished to hear that the company retained no record of the people whose details were sold, and is incapable of regenerating those lists from the records it is supposed to keep according to Pharmaceutical Regulators.

This is a serious failure of information governance, which only compounds their original decision to sell people’s details. Pharmacy2U have not confirmed that all the recipients of the data destroyed all of the details.

Once again, predatory quacks and charlatans have targeted those who are most vulnerable. Pharmacies and charities are likely to know who is most at risk, and selling their names and addresses is complicity in the sort of abuse that has cost lives.

Only a criminal ban on marketing to patients will prevent crooks preying on patients.