Hundreds of women ‘died early’ after cancer scan mix-up

Health Secretary admits 450,000 women missed breast cancer screening after computer error

A nurse in France carries out a breast ultrasound
(Image credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)

The Health Secretary admitted that as many as 270 women in England may have died because of a mix-up over breast-cancer screening.

The NHS screens all women between the ages of 50 and 70 for breast cancer every three years. They should receive a letter from their GP about the test, which aims to catch cancer early when it is easier to treat.

But Jeremy Hunt told the Commons that 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 did not receive invitations to a final routine breast cancer screening because of a computer glitch.

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The error was caused by a computer algorithm failure that happened in 2009 but was only discovered in January this year after a review by Public Health England (PHE).

This meant women approaching their 71st birthday were not sent an invitation for a final breast scan, with subsequent computer modelling suggesting that between 135 and 270 women may have had their lives shortened as a result.

Hunt apologised “wholehearted and unreservedly” to the women and their families and announced an independent review to investigate the scandal, but the medical profession has warned the implication for GPs will potentially be “significant”.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the inquiry will examine how the failings were allowed to continue for almost a decade.

The review will examine whether the problems, which began under Labour, were detected at any level, and whether any matters were referred to ministers.

Hunt added that his department would contact the families of women who had died of breast cancer and whom it believed had missed a screening, to apologise, while family members would have their concerns investigated and compensation may be payable if the error was found to have led to an earlier death.

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