Up to 270 women died after half a million missed out on breast cancer screenings due to NHS error

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A technician carries out a routine mammogram. (Getty Images)
A technician carries out a routine mammogram. (Getty Images)

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs a “serious failure” in the breast cancer screening programme meant an estimated 450,000 women were not invited to final screenings between 2009 and 2018.

Mr Hunt said he estimates that up to 270 women died as a result of the mistake.

There are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if this failure had not happened,’ said the Health Secretary.

He apologised ‘wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused’.

309,000 of the women affected are thought to still be alive today, and will be contacted.

The Government will also contact the families of women who died of breast cancer after missing their scan. In cases where the missed scan is deemed to be a factor in a person’s death, compensation will be paid, Mr Hunt confirmed.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)
Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt (REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

Mr Hunt told the Commons that a “serious failure” had come to light in the national breast screening programme in England, overseen by Public Health England (PHE).

He said: “Earlier this year PHE analysis of trial data from the service found that there was a computer algorithm failure dating back to 2009.

“The latest estimates I have received from PHE is that as a result of this, 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.

“At this stage it is not clear whether any delay in diagnosis resulted in any avoidable harm or death and that is one of the reasons I am ordering an independent review to establish the clinical impact.”

MPs were informed of the issue in March, but the public announcement was delayed in order to allow officials to put remedial measures in place.

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

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Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy and public affairs, said: “It’s very concerning to learn that so many women have not received an invitation to screening over a prolonged period of time.

“We know this may leave many women with questions about breast screening. If you suspect you have been directly affected by this or if you are over 50 and haven’t had a mammogram in the last three years and would like one, the NHS Choices website provides further information and the option to contact your local unit to book an appointment.

“It’s worth remembering that many breast cancers are still found by women themselves, outside of the screening programme, so if you notice any unusual changes in your breast, see your GP straight away.”

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