Labour in cancer leaflet row

Labour has become embroiled in a row about the use of personal data after sending cancer patients alarmist mailshots saying their lives could be at risk under a Conservative government.

Personalised cards addressed to sufferers by name warn that a Labour guarantee to see a cancer specialist within two weeks would be scrapped by the Tories. Labour claims the Conservatives would also do away with the right to be treated within 18 weeks.

Labour's cancer scare leafletThe offending mailshot
Cancer patients who received the personalised cards, sent with a message from a breast cancer survivor praising her treatment under Labour, said they were “disgusted and shocked”, and feared that the party may have had access to confidential health data.

Labour sources deny that the party has used any confidential information. However, the sources admit that, in line with other political parties, it uses socio-demographic research that is commercially and publicly available.

The postal campaign started last month before the general election was called. This is the first election in which parties have been able to use internet databases and digital printing to personalise their mailshots.

Labour has sent out 250,000 “cancer” postcards, each addressed to an individual, asking: “Are the Tories a change you can afford?” Many of those receiving the cards have undergone cancer scans or treatment within the past five years.

– In the Labour constituency of Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, two of a group of eight women friends received the breast cancer card. They are the only two to have undergone cancer treatment. One of them, Phyllis Delik, 80, described it as “callous” and “despicable”. The second woman, Shirley Foreman, 58, who received the card a fortnight after undergoing surgery, said: “It is bad taste after what I have been through.”

– In the marginal east London constituency of Poplar and Limehouse, the card was sent to a 44-year-old television producer who had a potentially cancerous lump that turned out to be a cyst. She appeared to be the only person who received the mailshot among 50 neighbours. She said: “It’s crude and insensitive.”

– A card was sent to a woman who has died of breast cancer. Her 33-year-old husband was so upset that he sent a message to the Facebook page of Diane Dwelly, the woman whose case is featured in the mailshot, accusing her of being a pawn for the Labour party.

This weekend Dwelly, 48, from Rugby, admitted she had “probably been used by Labour”. She believed her photograph had been taken for use in a magazine for the National Health Service, not as part of Labour’s election campaign.

The cards are being distributed by Ravensworth, part of Tangent Communications, which has won accounts sending out mail for the Department of Health and Cancer Research UK.

Tangent claims that it specialises in “highly targeted marketing”.

The cancer cards are part of a wider postal campaign targeting various groups. Others are aimed at parents whose children attend Sure Start centres, pensioners and the owners of small businesses.

Labour has so far sent out 600,000 cards. It plans to distribute 4.5m during the election campaign.

Janet Arslan, 40, a graphic designer who also lives in the Sherwood constituency, said: “When I received the breast cancer card at first I thought it was from the hospital.

“I did not think Labour would be that crass to deliberately target a terminal cancer patient like me.”

Damian Bentley, managing director of Tangent, said: “Our company does a lot for the Labour party but I don’t work on that side of the business.”

He failed to respond to a list of questions on how the addresses of the cancer victims were obtained.

Emilie Oldknow, 29, the Labour candidate in Sherwood, worked for the NHS before she became the regional organiser of the East Midlands Labour party. She is the fiancée of Jonathan Ashworth, Gordon Brown’s deputy political secretary and a member of his “kitchen cabinet”.

Oldknow has denied all knowledge of the cards.

“I had not seen the mailshot before and it wasn’t sent out by my campaign,” she said.

In an email to Arslan’s mother, she said her details had been “obtained from the electoral register, which is available to political parties”.

Experian, the data management company, confirmed that both Labour and the Conservatives use its Mosaic database, which divides voters into 67 groups. The databases can use anonymised hospital statistics, including postcodes and the diagnoses of patients, to identify the likely addresses of those with particular illnesses.

It cannot identify potential breast cancer sufferers because the disease affects adult women of all ages and backgrounds.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said: “For Labour’s campaign to deliberately distress or scare sufferers from breast cancer is shameful. Because we are going to increase the NHS budget in real terms and cut bureaucracy and waste, we will have the capacity to ensure that cancer patients are seen sooner than they are at the moment and to meet the quality standards that they expect.”


Health Direct doubts labour spin about this approach being a “one off” as they have given themselves the right to snoop on all of your medical data- as well as their nightsoilmen at the Deptament of Health.

Highlighting once again the need for you to opt out of their expense white elephant that is the NPfIT propgram.

Private companies get access to millions of NHS medical records

September 29, 2008 By: Dr Search- Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic

The confidential medical records of millions of NHS patients could be handed over to private companies under controversial plans being drawn up by labour ministers.

Patients’ postcodes, medical conditions and treatments – and in some circumstances, their names – could be passed on to third parties without their consent.

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