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Breast cancer screening blunder affected up to 174,000 women

Around 174,000 women were affected by the breast cancer screening invitation error, a new government update has suggested.

Last month Hunt announced an independent review into the scandal that saw thousands of women aged between 68 and 71 fail to receive invitations to screening due to a computer algorithm since 2009.

Initial estimates were that the blunder may have affected 450,000 women, but yesterday the health secretary made a follow up statement, in which he revealed that the figure was in fact much lower.

Using data provided by NHS Digital, it is understood that up to 174,000 women were affected by the issues, and of these up to 130,000 have been confirmed as still being alive.

Consequently, Hunt said that the number of women estimated to have had their lives shortened as a result of the error is estimated to be less than 75.

Over the last four weeks, the NHS has provided an additional 68,000 screening appointments for patients experiencing delays as a result of catching up with the missed screens, and Hunt said that the NHS is on track to screen all affected women who want an appointment by the end of October.

Updating Parliament on the progress of the independent review into the error, 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, with Peter Wyman from the CQC as vice chair, Hunt said: “I can now confirm that we have agreed the terms of reference for this review, details of which are attached to this statement.

“The chairs are considering how best to involve affected women, their families and wider stakeholders and will release information on this when it is available.”

He added: “Our cancer screening programme is widely recognised as world-leading, but on this occasion a number of women have been let down.

“It is now clear that this may have resulted in significant harm for a small number of women, while thousands more have faced unnecessary distress and anxiety as they waited to hear if they have been affected.”

He repeated his “wholehearted and unreserved” apology to the women affected and their families.

Responding to Hunt’s follow up statement, Fiona Hazell, director of policy and engagement at Breast Cancer Now, welcomed the news that the number of women affected was far fewer than previously thought, but said that this will not be reassuring to those who missed their invitations.

She added: “For those women who developed breast cancers that could have been picked up earlier through screening, and the estimated 75 women who have had their lives shortened, this remains a devastating failure.

“The independent review must now thoroughly investigate how this was allowed to happen and ensure it can never be repeated.”

Top image: kali9


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