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NHS breast cancer scandal as Hunt reveals up to 270 women have DIED after 'computer glitch' meant 450,000 women did not get their final screenings for the disease

A 'serious failure' in NHS breast cancer screening means up to 270 women may have died early after 450,000 people never received their final tests, the Government admitted today.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said early investigations into the scandal suggested hundreds of women have developed cancer after missing their scan.

He branded the 'heart breaking' failures an act of 'administrative incompetence' at the NHS and offered an unreserved apology to those who have suffered as a result. 
The mistakes date back to at least 2009 meaning the scandal will raise questions for both the Tories and Labour on why it was not uncovered sooner.
The failures first came to the attention of health chiefs in January and Mr Hunt said a 'computer algorithm' failure was to blame.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for all the cases to be investigated 'sensitively'. 
The Health Secretary ordered an independent inquiry to find out exactly what went wrong, how many people died and who is entitled to compensation. 
Surviving women who are still in their early 70s will be offered catch up screening and a helpline has been set up, Mr Hunt said. 

In his statement, Mr Hunt said that between 2009 and the start of 2018 up to 450,000 women aged between 68 and 71 were not invited to their final breast screening.

He added: 'At this stage it is unclear if any delay in diagnosis resulted in any avoidable deaths or harm.'
But he admitted the current best estimate is that between 135 and 270 women had their lives shortened by the failure.

He added: 'There are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive had the failure not happened.'
All women affected who wish to be screened will be invited to one in the next six months – he said most would be screened sooner than that.  

The Health Secretary added: 'We must also recognise that there may also be some who receive a letter having had a recent terminal diagnosis
'For them and others It is incredibly upsetting to know that you did not receive an invitation for screening at the correct time and totally devastating to hear that you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence.

'So on behalf of the government Pubic Health England and the NHS, I apologise wholehearted and unreservedly for the suffering caused.'

He added: 'The sad truth is we can't establish whether not being invited to a screen was critical or not without looking into individuals' case notes.
'Sadly in some cases this will involve looking into the case notes of some people who have now died to establish whether there is a link or not.'

'We do need to find ways to improve oversight.' 
Giving details of his inquiry, Mr Hunt said the Government will be looking into how the IT failure happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

He said: 'I am therefore 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 minimise the risk of any repetition.

The review will be chaired by Linda Thomas, the chief executive of McMillan 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' time.' 
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK's director of policy and public affairs, said: 'It's very concerning to learn that so many women have not received an invitation to screening over a prolonged period of time. 

'We know this may leave many women with questions about breast screening.

If you suspect you have been directly affected by this or if you are over 50 and haven't had a mammogram in the last three years and would like one, the NHS Choices website provides further information and the option to contact your local unit to book an appointment.
'It's worth remembering that many breast cancers are still found by women themselves, outside of the screening programme, so if you notice any unusual changes in your breast see your GP straight away.' 

Mr Ashworth welcomed the establishment of an inquiry, and asked: 'Although the parallels are not exact, where the NHS offers screenings for bowel cancer between the ages of 60 and 74 and for cervical cancer for women up to 64, what assurances can the Secretary of State give us today that the systems which support those services are running properly, and what checks are being carried out to make sure that nobody is missing out on screenings for other cancers?'

He called for Mr Hunt to ensure that the NHS will have the staff it needs to carry out the additional work.

'And can I suggest to him ever so gently that if the NHS does need extra international cancer staff he will ensure that the Home Office doesn't block their visas?' 

Responding to Mr Ashworth, the Health Secretary said 'each and every case will be looked into in detail'.
Mr Hunt said he was 'not aware of any evaluations that have been shared with the Department of Health that could have brought this problem to light', but said the inquiry would look at the matter.


On resources, he added: 'We will certainly provide any extra resources that the NHS needs to undertake additional cancer screening because one of our biggest priorities is that women who get their regular screens between the age of 50 and 70 - where the screens are of the highest clinical value - do not find that they are delayed because of the extra screenings that are being done as we try to put this problem right.'

Routine screening is supposed to be offered every three years to all women aged between 50 and 70. 
Around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

The disease becomes more likely with age.

Screening aims to find cancer when it is too small to see or feel and is performed with a mammogram X-ray. 

Figures in January revealed just 71.1 per cent of women in England aged 50 to 70 took up invitations for routine screening in 2016/17 - down 1 per cent on the previous year.
It is the lowest take up in 10 years - in 2007, 73.6 per cent of women attended, according to NHS Digital data.  

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF BREAST CANCER?

Around 55,200 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year. One in eight women develop the disease during their lifetime.
The illness can cause a number of symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps aren't cancerous, but it's always best to have them checked by your doctor.
According to NHS Choices you should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
Breast pain isn't usually a symptom of breast cancer.

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