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450,000 Women Not Invited for NHS Breast Screening

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that as many as 270 women in England may have died due to not receiving an invitation to a final routine breast cancer screening.

450,000 68-71 year-old women have failed to receive invitations since 2009, and it has been suggested that between 135-270 women may have had their lives shortened due to this invitation failure. The blame has been put upon a ‘computer algorithm’ which caused for some women who were approaching their 71st birthday to not be invited for their final breast scans.

The Health Secretary has stated that an independent review is to be carried out into why this occurred, and has “wholeheartedly” apologised to those involved and their families. He also said that oversight “had not been good enough” of the NHS screening programme.

Of the 450,000 women believed to have been affected by the error, 309,000 are alive and in their 70s today.  Mr Hunt said, “For them and others it is incredibly upsetting to know that you did not receive an invitation for screening at the correct time and totally devastating to hear you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence.”

At present, all women in England who are aged between 50 and 70 are invited for a breast screening every three years; women who have been affected by the invitation failure and are currently aged under 72 will be sent an appointment for a ‘catch-up mammogram.’ Those who are aged over 72 are able to contact a helpline, where the pros and cons of going for a screening will be explained to them; at times, scans performed on older women can detect cancers which do not require any treatment.

Any woman who has been affected and wishes to receive a catch-up scan, will be issued with an appointment within six months. Mr Hunt said it was vital to ensure that any additional scans did not cause delays for other women in the screening programme.

The issue was discovered when Public Health England (PHE) analysed data, and, Jenny Harries, a Medical Doctor at PHE said about those affected that, “They and their families’ wellbeing is our top priority and we are very sorry for these faults in the system.”

Mr Hunt, when addressing MPs in the Commons said, “Irrespective of when the incident started, the fact is for many years oversight of our screening programme has not been good enough.”

He added, “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.”

It has already been said from a legal perspective that this ‘blunder’ could see the NHS paying out millions in compensation. Besides the fear that some women may have lost their lives as a result of this error, many others are believed to have undergone ‘unpleasant’ treatment as a result of late diagnosis.



BBC News. ‘Breast Screening Error ‘Shortened Up To 270 Lives’ – Hunt.’ BBC News Online.

Borland, Sophie. ‘Women and Bereaved Families Caught in NHS Breast Cancer Misdiagnosis Scandal Could Each Get £1m Payouts as IT Glitch Sees 270 Die and 450,000 Miss Screening Appointments in 10 Years.’ The Daily Mail Online.

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