Up to 270 patients may have lost their lives needlessly due to an IT error that caused 450,000 women to miss cancer screenings, the health secretary has today announced.
Speaking in Parliament, Jeremy Hunt said that the IT error dated back to 2009, and that between 135 and 270 women may have died – but the true number may also be smaller.
Mr Hunt said that between 2009 and the start of 2018, ’an estimated 450,000 women aged between 68 and 71 were not invited to their final breast screening’. Of these, ‘309,000 are estimated to still be alive’.
Mr Hunt went on to announce an independent review into the issue.
‘At this stage it is unclear whether any delay in diagnosis will have resulted in any avoidable harm or death and that is one of the reasons why I’m ordering an independent review to establish the clinical impact,’ he said.
But he added: ‘However tragically there are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if the failure had not happened.’
Mr Hunt said the issue ‘came to light because an upgrade to the breast screening invitation IT system provided improved data to local services on the actual age of the women receiving screening invitations’. The error was discovered in January.
On next steps, Mr Hunt said it was the Government’s ‘intention is to contact all those living within the United Kingdom who are registered with a GP before the end of May, with the first 65,000 letters going out this week’.
‘Following independent expert clinical advice, the letters will inform all those under 75 that they will automatically be sent an invitation to a catch up screening.’
The RCGP said that the implications for GPs will be ‘significant’, as patients seek reassurance, and they will be issuing advice accordingly.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ’We are shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of women in England have missed out on their opportunity for breast screening – and the implications for GPs and our teams will potentially be significant, as patients seek reassurance and to find out where they go from here.
’GPs will be advised about this at the same time as patients, so if patients are worried, we would encourage them not to contact their GP about this matter in the first instance but to contact the dedicated national helpline that has been set up – 0800 169 2692 – or to look on the NHS Choices website for more information.’
The routine NHS Breast Screening programme invites 2.5m women every year for a test, with women between the ages of 50-70 receiving a screen every three years up to their 71st birthday. Around 2m women take up the offer, according to Public Health England.
Dr Jenny Harries, PHE deputy medical director said: ‘On behalf of NHS Breast Screening services, we apologise to the women affected and we are writing to them to offer a catch-up screening appointment. They and their families’ wellbeing is our top priority and we are very sorry for these faults in the system.’