How computer error has affected breast cancer screenings in Cornwall

Alicia Farmer
May 5, 2018

A major IT error that affected hospitals in the United Kingdom beginning in 2009 caused as many as 450,000 patients between the ages of 68 and 71 to miss breast cancer screenings, which could have resulted in up to 270 deaths, The Guardian reports.

Workers have reportedly raised concerns that mistakes could be made in the handling of women's cases due to the lack of training.

But now her daughter Helen, 50, has been left wondering whether her "vibrant" mother could have lived longer as she never had her final breast cancer screening.

However, a computer glitch discovered by Public Health England in January revealed final routine screenings for women randomly selected for the trial were cancelled before their 70th birthday.

Yesterday Duncan Selbie, head of Public Health England, which oversees screening, made a "heartfelt and unreserved" apology for the failures.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, described the mistake as a "colossal systemic failure".

"I would like an explanation from somebody why this happened, why I didn't get a recall".

"We hadn't known this problem was existing".

Around 450,000 women have been affected by the error and it is estimated that between 135 and 270 women had their lives shortened as a result.

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"Screening prevents deaths from breast cancer - the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful, and we'd encourage all women to attend their appointments".

She told the board: "The breast screening department here are setting up on the assumption that there will be local women who have not been screened".

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

PHE said "well-trained staff" would ensure callers "receive the best possible information and support".

Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are now automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years.

"There is a helpline, and the (hospital's breast screening) department have been very, very responsible".

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of Global Positioning System, said: "The national breast screening programme has potentially saved thousands of lives since its inception - a year ago alone, over 18,000 cancers were detected as a result of the programme, which might not have been detected as early otherwise".

Addressing a trust board meeting on Thursday, he said: "We are taking immediate action to make sure we are intervening with any patients who may have been affected through this national computer error".

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