Breast cancer screening scandal: NHS failures affect hundreds of thousands
The government Minister for Health, Jeremy Hunt, announced yesterday that a computer error in the NHS has led to 450,000 women not being invited to get breast cancer screenings.
Partner in our medical negligence team, Paul Rumley, was featured in the Daily Express giving his expert comment on the scandal (click for larger version):
Invitations to attend screenings for breast cancer were not sent to women aged between 68 and 71 between 2009 and 2018. It is estimated that up to 270 women may have died earlier than they should have done due to a failure to get a screening, leading to a late diagnosis of cancer and making their prognosis less positive than if the cancer had been caught early.
What went wrong?
The NHS has a national system of breast cancer screening, with every woman aged between 50 and 70 years old invited for a test every three years. A screening is done by an x-ray (a mammogram) which can identify cancer in it’s earliest stages before any symptoms develop. It is one of a number of ways cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.
Screenings are offered to women over 50 on a regular basis, as data shows that breast cancer becomes more prevalent with age, so women have a better prognosis if the cancer is identified early.
The Government has now announced, however, that a technical error in its computer system, unnoticed for nearly a decade, has meant that 450,000 women aged 68, 69 and 70 since 2009 were not send this invitation for screening.
The system error was only found out recently when the organisation Public Health England were upgrading the software for breast cancer screening invitations and spotted the problem. It undertook an analysis of the screening data and saw the extent of the problem and the numbers of women who had been affected.
The Government has claimed it will be setting up an independent review to look at the failure, how it happened, why it wasn’t detected earlier and how it can be prevented in the future. It will identify exactly how many people were affected.
Who has been affected?
If you are a woman who was between the ages of 68 and 71 since 2009 then you may have been affected. Women who are currently aged between 70 and 80 are the most likely to have been affected. It is also known that a number of women who have died from breast cancer since 2009 may have been affected by this error and could have had their cancer identified and treated earlier had they had a screening.
Jeremy Hunt stated,
“Tragically there are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if this failure had not happened”
The Government has stated that all women who have been affected by the error will be contacted this month and those under 72 years old will be offered a screening. The reason those over 72 won’t be offered a screening automatically is that often the test is less effective as it picks up cancers that do not need treating.
The Government has said it will attempt to contact the families of women who did not receive a screening and sadly subsequently died of breast cancer.
Paul Rumley, partner in our Medical Negligence team, had this to say on the scandal:
“I can only imagine the anxiety this is causing for the women, and their families, caught up in this failure. Whilst it is important to remember that the vast majority of those women will not in fact have cancer, and so the delay will not have affected them, for those who do and families who think that their loved ones might have tragically died as a result of the delay in screening, they should seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. Our expert team are ready to help in any way we can, those women who sadly receive letters in the coming days confirming that they have been caught up in this.”
What can you do if you are concerned?
If you are concerned that you or a family member did not receive breast cancer screening between the ages of 68 and 71, then there are a number of actions you can take:
- Contact the government breast screening helpline – 0800 169 2692
- Contact your GP to request a screening. Even if you are over 70, you are able to request a screening every three years.
- Contact our freephone number below to see if we can help you bring a claim
If you or a family member did not receive a screening and have developed breast cancer then you may want to consider bringing a negligence claim to receive compensation. Our enquiries team can help you explore whether you have a claim and are contactable by phone or by email.
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