‘Beyond catastrophic’ – Suffolk campaigners’ shock over breast screening blunder

Gina Long MBE says the failure is 'catastrophic'. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Gina Long MBE says the failure is 'catastrophic'. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Lucy Taylor

Campaigners in Suffolk have reacted with shock after it emerged up to 450,000 women have missed out on a breast cancer screening due to an administrative error.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt makes a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on reports that thousa

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt makes a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on reports that thousands of women were not invited for breast cancer screening due to an administrative error. Picture: PA WIRE - Credit: PA

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Commons today that a “computer algorithm failure” dating back to 2009 had meant many women aged 68 to 71 in England were not invited to their final routine breast cancer test.

While it is unknown at this stage whether the issue caused any avoidable deaths, Mr Hunt said between 135 and 270 women may have had “their lives shortened as a result”.

An independent review has been launched into the error in the programme, which is run by Public Health England (PHE) and automatically invites women between the ages of 50 and 70 for a breast cancer screening every three years.

Fornham St Martin based Gina Long MBE, who is a founding member of the Suffolk Breast Cancer Now Group, said: “As a fundraiser and campaigner for breast cancer, I know full well how imperative an early diagnosis is for those who are diagnosed with this wretched disease.

Katherine Simpson-Jacobs says this mistake will put added strain on NHS services. Picture: PAGEPIX

Katherine Simpson-Jacobs says this mistake will put added strain on NHS services. Picture: PAGEPIX

“So the fact that they could also be victims of a horrendous computer error is beyond catastrophic. One can only hope that lessons are learned and this mistake never happens again.”

Breast cancer survivor Katherine Simpson-Jacobs, who is from Ipswich and has written a book about how to break the news of a diagnosis to children, said this mistake would have put added financial pressure on the NHS.

She said: “Anything that is going to cause more distress and worry and potentially cause women long term problems is really not a good thing.

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“It’s vital really not only for the health of those women in particular, but for the strain that it puts on the resources of the NHS.

An independent review is expected to be launched into the error, which dates back to 2009. Picture:

An independent review is expected to be launched into the error, which dates back to 2009. Picture: RUI VIEIRA/PA WIRE - Credit: PA

“Surely it would be far more cost effective to put a screening programme in place that keeps people healthy for longer rather than end up with a life-threatening disease that requires expensive and extensive treatment.”

Samia al Qadhi is chief executive of Breast Cancer Care - the charity partner of this year’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour which passes through Suffolk.

She said: “Hundreds of thousands of women across England have been failed by this appalling error and some have had their lives shortened as a result.

“It is shocking that almost a decade has passed before this mistake was discovered. Women affected and their loved ones will be left reeling, both scared and confused. The number one priority now must be to ensure that they get all the support and information they need.

“This incompetence must not be allowed to happen again.”

Of those who missed invitations, 309,000 are estimated to still be alive and will be contacted before the end of May to offer a “catch-up” screening.

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.

“A complex IT problem with the breast screening invitation system has led to some women not being invited for their final screen between their 68th and 71st birthdays. We have carried out urgent work to identify the problem and have fixed it. Additional failsafe systems have been introduced to ensure the problem does not reoccur.”

Expert nurses from Breast Cancer Care can be contacted via 0808 800 6000 to offer help and support.

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