Saturday 21 September 2019

450,000 missed out on breast cancer screening due to glitch

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt makes his statement. Photo: PA
UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt makes his statement. Photo: PA

Alex Matthews-King

Nearly half a million women in England missed out on NHS cancer screening because of an IT error, the government has admitted - adding that hundreds may have died as a result.

Jeremy Hunt, the health and social care secretary, has apologised for the glitch which meant 450,000 women were never sent letters inviting them to routine breast cancer check-ups.

He admitted up to 270 of those affected could have died prematurely as a result of the error and officials said there may be more women whose cancer was caught at a later, and less treatable, stage.

The UK government announced an independent inquiry into the full extent of what charities have called an "appalling error", and said it would begin the "distressing" process of contacting families to establish whether they are owed compensation.

A technical issue dating back to 2009 and only caught in 2018 was responsible for some women in England missing out on the last of their regular invitations for screening.

In a statement, Mr Hunt announced the "best estimate" is that between 135 and 270 women "had their lives shortened as a result". "I am advised that it is unlikely to be more than this range, and may be considerably less," he added.

"Tragically, there are likely to be some people in this group who would be alive today had this failure not happened."

These numbers are based on estimates of the rates of cancers caught for every woman screened, however the independent review will establish how many women were affected by reviewing case notes. It will also try to determine how the issues went unnoticed for the best part of a decade.

The NHS currently screens women between the ages of 50 and 70 for breast cancer every three years, but only women aged between 68 and 71 were affected by this issue.

The glitch first came to light in January after an upgrade to the national screening IT system found women enrolled in a long-running study were not receiving their final screening invitation around age 70. This led to a review which found the problem and other issues were replicated across England.

Charities said the "incompetence" of allowing failures to go unnoticed must never be repeated.

© Independent News Service

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