Breast scan error ‘shortened up to 270 lives’

Up to 270 women in England may have died because they did not receive invitations to a final routine breast cancer screening.  This information comes from the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt, speaking in the Commons, has said 450,000 women aged 68-71 had failed to get invitations since 2009. He has announced an independent review and apologised to the women and their families.

Mr Hunt said oversight of the screening programme had “not been good enough”.

GPs leaders said they were “shocked” to learn of the error and said the implications for GPs would potentially be “significant”.

Of the 450,000 women affected, 150,000 have since died. The remaining 309,000 are now in their 70s.

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.”

He said a computer algorithm failure was to blame, which meant women who had just turned 70 were not sent an invitation for a final scan as they should have been.

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

“Many families will be deeply disturbed by these revelations, not least because there will be some people who receive a letter having had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer.”

All women affected will now be contacted by letter by the end of May and those under 75 will be offered a routine catch-up mammogram.  A helpline has been set up for women aged over 72 to talk them through the pros and cons of having breast screening – scans in older women sometimes pick up cancers which do not require treatment.

Almost 14,000 calls have now been received. In an update to the House of Commons on 8th May, Mr Hunt told MPs that 65,000 letters were sent out to those affected last week, with further letters being sent this week and the first invitations for catch-up screenings to be sent next week.

It is likely that many women will have been adversely affected by this failure and many may have had worse prognosis or tragically died as a result.

If you or a family member has suffered as a result of these mistakes, Devonshires Claims are experienced and compassionate medical negligence solicitors and are here to help with the difficult process of seeking compensation.

If you wish to speak with one of our team, please contact Karen Cathcart, a specialist lawyer with experience in these types of claims.

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