A 'serious failure' has come to light in the national breast screening programme in England. Here’s what we know.

Wednesday 2 May 2018      Health information blog

What’s happened?

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has made a statement to Parliament about a 'serious failure' of the Breast Screening Programme in England.

Due to an IT problem, an estimated 450,000 women aged between 68-71 have not been invited to their final screening appointment since 2009. This will therefore affect women who are currently up to the age of 79. 

It is estimated that around 100-300 women may have had their lives shortened as a result.

The error was discovered by the NHS in January, and Ministers were alerted to this in March. The Minister announced that measures have been put in place to fix the IT problem so that this will not affect women going forward.

What is the NHS doing to contact affected women?

From this week until the end of May, the NHS will send letters to all those women who are affected and are registered with a GP. 

In those letters, women aged under 72 will be invited to a catch-up screening appointment within the next six months. 

Those aged 72 and over will be given access to a helpline where they will be advised as to whether a screening appointment is necessary.

The NHS believes that this issue will not affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they’re looking at ways to identify women who have moved from England to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The NHS will endeavour to contact the appropriate next of kin of those they believe missed a scan and have subsequently died of breast cancer. As well as apologising to the families affected, the letter will outline any further advice, including the process by which they can establish whether the missed scan is a likely cause of death and compensation therefore payable. They recognise that this will be incredibly distressing for some families and the Minister has said he will approach the issue as sensitively as possible.

How is the Government making sure this never happens again?

The Government is commissioning an independent review of the NHS Breast Screening Programme to look at these and other issues, including its processes, IT systems and further changes and improvements that can be made to the system to prevent something like this happening again. The review will be chaired by Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support and Professor Martin Gore, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Professor of Cancer Medicine at The Royal Marsden, and is expected to report in six months.

If you have been affected by these issues, please contact the national Public Health England helpline which has been set up on 0800 169 2692 or go to the NHS Choices website for more information.

Here’s what we’ve said about the failure.