The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently announced that since 2009, 450,000 women had not received an appointment for a routine breast screening. Mr Hunt has said that a computer algorithm failure was the reason why so many women aged 68-71 were not invited for screening.
Addressing the Commons, Mr Hunt said that there could be between 135 and 270 women who “had their lives shortened as a result” of the failure. He went on to say:
“Tragically there are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if the failure had not happened”.
The Health Secretary has apologised “wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused” and has ordered an independent review into NHS breast cancer screening. He said:
“We also need to get to the bottom of precisely how many people were affected, why it happened and most importantly how we can prevent it from ever happening again.”
Under the NHS breast screening programme, women aged 50-70 who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast screening every three years. The aim of screening is to identify cancer early via a mammogram as earlier diagnosis increases the likelihood of treatment being successful. In the UK, around one-in-eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Screening Failure: What Happens Next?
- All women affected will be contacted by letter by the end of May;
- All those aged under 72 will automatically be sent an invitation for screening;
- All those aged 72 and over can call a helpline to decide if screening is appropriate for them;
- Mr Hunt said “best endeavours” will be made to contact the next of kin of women who were not invited for a scan and who subsequently died of breast cancer.
The Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care, Samia al Qadhi has said:
“Hundreds of thousands of women across England have been failed by this appalling error and some have had their lives shortened as a result”.
It is saddening that it has taken nearly 10 years to identify a failure that has affected so many women and, in some cases, has led to devastating consequences.