United Kingdom: 450000 women missed out on breast cancer tests

Alicia Farmer
May 2, 2018

Jeremy Hunt said Wednesday in Parliament that the mistake appeared to be the result of a "computer algorithm failure" dating back to 2009.

"Our current best estimate - which comes with caveats as it's based on statistical modelling rather than patient reviews and because there is now no clinical consensus about the benefits of screening for this age group - is that there may be between 135 and 270 women who had their lives shortened as a result".

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

Letters will be sent out women to notify them of missed screenings over the next few months. Advice, including on whether compensation is available, and an apology will be offered.

An independent review has been launched into the "serious failure" in the programme, run by Public Health England (PHE).

Of the 450,000 women who missed out on screenings due to the error, 309,000 are still alive.

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Greenwood said that many breast cancers are still found by women themselves, and recommended that women concerned about missing their test should contact their doctors.

More resources will be made available to ensure the additional screenings are carried out without delay to any patients.

"We welcome the independent inquiry into this matter, announced today, but the priority should not be to establish blame, but to put measures in place to invite those women affected for screening, where appropriate; to ensure there are enough resources in the system to cope with any additional demand that might follow as a result; and to take steps to ensure this never happens again".

A helpline will be set up to help women aged over 75 and talk them through the pros and cons of having breast screening - scans in older women sometimes pick up cancers which do not require treatment. The IT failure meant that the women affected missed out on a routine appointment before their 70th birthday.

"It is shocking that nearly a decade has passed before this mistake was discovered".

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said his thoughts are with those whose screenings were missed, and criticised the programme for taking so long to notice the error.

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