Breast Screening IT Error: Have You Been Affected?

3 Min Read

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Breast Screening: An IT Error

450,000 women have missed out on breast cancer screening because of IT errors within the health service. Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for health, has said that up to 270 women’s lives may have been cut short as a result. Many women having breast cancer treatment are likely to receive letters telling them that they have missed out on screening.

The error was discovered during an IT upgrade. There was found to be a problem with a computer algorithm, which meant women between the ages of 68 and 71 were not offered breast screening when they should have been. The error was not discovered until January 2018. The problem is thought to date back almost 10 years.

Mr Hunt has apologised “wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused” by the mistake and has ordered an independent inquiry.

Paul Sankey, Partner at Enable Law and expert on cancer cases, commented on the numbers:

“Statistically speaking for every 1,000 women screening, 7 are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. This is very low. If we apply this to the quoted numbers for the 309,000 women called for screening, there could be over 2,000 new diagnoses of breast cancer. Although understandably this will cause concern, people should try not to worry as the chance of having cancer is low and the majority of cases will be treatable.”

Breast cancer facts

The aim of screening is pick up cancer early and before women have symptoms. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of cure. Early diagnosis may also mean women avoid more extensive treatment, such as mastectomy (removing the breast), radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Survival rates in breast cancer are now very good. Most women with Stages 1 to 3 cancer survive, with prognosis improving the earlier the cancer is detected. Delays in diagnosis, therefore, can have serious consequences.

What should I do if I think I have been affected by missed screening? 

309,000 women are likely to receive letters telling them they should have had screening. The letters will tell women under 72 that they will be sent an invite for screening, and women over 72 will be offered advice on whether they should have screening. The NHS are planning to write to everyone who has been affected, so the first thing to do would be to look out for this letter.

What should I do if I receive a letter about missed screening?

If you receive a letter advising you that you should have had screening then you should follow the advice contained within that letter. For most women there is no need to worry as for the majority no harm is likely to have been caused, but if you are concerned you should speak to medical professionals.

What should I do if I think my breast cancer diagnosis has been delayed?

If you think your diagnosis of breast cancer has been delayed or someone in your family died because their cancer was diagnosed too late, you may like legal advice. Where cancer was diagnosed late because of an avoidable medical error, you may be entitled to damages. If so, please phone one of our specialist lawyers on 0800 044 8488.

Our lawyers have the expertise to conduct these specialist claims and are experienced in representing groups of patients affected by medical errors. We are keeping a register of women affected and will be following closely the outcome of the independent investigation.