Women In England May Have Died After Breast Cancer 'Screening Error'

Stock Image Getty Images

Stock Image Getty Images

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed a breast cancer screening error affecting 450,000 women may have led to hundreds of lives being cut short.

About 450,000 older women were not sent their invitations for routine NHS screening because of the computer error, Jeremy Hunt said.

While it is unknown at this stage whether the issue caused any avoidable deaths, Mr Hunt said between 135 and 270 women may have had "their lives shortened as a result".

NHS England will be expanding the capacity of screening services to enable all women affected to be screened within six months, though ideally as early as possible.

PHE first picked up on the computer problem in January, noting some services didn't offer women a final screening in the three years before their 71st birthdays.

He told MPs that it is now unclear whether any delay in cancer diagnosis will have resulted in any avoidable or delayed deaths.

The fault was discovered by Public Health England, which oversees the programme on behalf of the NHS, earlier this year.

Any woman concerned that they might have breast cancer can see their GP and be referred for a screening.

"We know this will unfortunately be incredibly hard news for many women to hear".

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The estimated 309,000 women who are still alive and living in the United Kingdom will be contacted, with 65,000 letters being sent out this week.

A number of women who missed screenings are understood to have since developed cancer.

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

An independent review has been launched into the error in the programme, which is run by Public Health England (PHE) and automatically invites women between the ages of 50 and 70 for a breast cancer screening every three years. The body then informed Hunt in March that some women were not receiving their invitation to their final screening at the age of 70.

Those aged 72 and over will be given access to a helpline offering clinical advice about whether or not a screen is appropriate.

"The Welsh administration doesn't believe that this problem has affected them, even though they were using the same IT system that we were using in England, but that is their view".

The Royal College of Global Positioning System welcomed the independent review and urged women affected not to panic.

"I am glad the truth has come out, and I just hope that people take more notice of these glitches", he said.

Hunt responded: "I'm afraid she is absolutely right and the truth is we do have a quality assurance programme and it failed to pick this problem up for far too long so we need to understand why that happened".

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