The personal-health data of millions of British Columbians has been accessed without proper authorization, and in the most serious cases, the provincial government says it will notify 38,486 individuals of the breaches by letter.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid made the announcement as part of an ongoing investigation into research-grant practices between ministry employees and researchers at the universities of B.C. and Victoria.

MacDiarmid said that during three separate instances in October 2010 and June 2012, the health information was saved on USB sticks and shared with researchers or contractors without the proper permission or protocols.

MacDiarmid said the data did not include names, addresses or financial information, but it wasn't supposed to be shared with other health researchers.

Also included was data from Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey, including information on the mental, physical and sexual health of individuals, as well as their lifestyles and the use of health services.

"We don't have any evidence at all that any of this information was used for any purpose other than health research. There is minimal if any risk that this information that would be used in a way that would be harmful to these individuals."

MacDiarmid said her ministry decided to write the letters following discussions with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Elizabeth Denham, the information and privacy commissioner, also said Monday her independent investigation should be complete in the coming weeks, and she will then issue a public report with findings and recommendations.

Seven ministry workers have already been fired, sparking two separate lawsuits.