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450,000 missed breast cancer screenings, 270 lives potentially shortened

Published on 02/05/18 at 03:27pm

An error in the automated system left 450,000 women without an invite for breast screening and Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s Health Secretary, said that 270 women may have had their lives shortened as a result.

The problem has been on-going since 2009 but has only recently been uncovered, after an Oxford University trial discovered that women were not being invited for final screening.

Women affected were between the ages of 68 and 71, with 309,000 women still being alive. The error was reportedly a computer algorithm that failed to invite women upon turning 70 for a breast screening.

Why it has taken close to a decade for the mistake to be discovered has not been addressed but all women affected will now be contacted by the end of month with an invitation to a screening.

The corrective invitations may come too late for some women, as Hunt acknowledged, who may already be suffering from breast cancer or in a terminal condition due to the missed screening.

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 added, “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.”

Hunt also announced that there would be an independent inquiry set up to find out the reasons behind the administrative failure.

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

“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.”

Ben Hargreaves

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