NHS breast screening error likely to have resulted in patient deaths

A recent NHS error which has resulted in more than 450,000 women incorrectly not receiving their final invitations for routine breast screening may have resulted in the death of more than 270 women. As a result there may be an increase in the number of patients pursuing a medical negligence claim should they have suffered as a result.

It is understood that a glitch in the computer system was responsible for the error. Women between the ages of 50-70 years old should automatically be invited to a mammogram every three years. However, an incorrect algorithm meant that those between the ages of 68-71 were missed off and never received their invites – affecting an estimated 450,000 women.

It is unknown exactly what impact the missed screening has had, however, computer modelling has anticipated that the missed mammograms would have resulted in the deaths of between 135 and 270 women, having a huge potential impact on the number of delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis claims pursued as a result. As well as deaths from missed screenings, it is also likely that other women were diagnosed with late stages of cancer, requiring more intensive treatment to cure due to a delay in diagnosis, this may lead to an increase in patients pursuing a cancer misdiagnosis claim.

Of the affected group of women, it is understood that 309,000 are still alive and will be sent a letter inviting them to a screening, with all letters due to be sent by the end of May.

Mammograms are thought to assist with the early detection of breast cancer, before lumps are visible as they can detect areas of calcium in the breast tissue. These areas are called calcification, which may be due to cancer but also occur due to non-cancerous related issues. The survival rate for breast cancer depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed, making mammograms a vital tool in aiding early detection of the disease.

At present five year survival rates for those with breast cancer are 99 percent if diagnosed at stage 1 (the earliest stage) but if a diagnosis is not given until stage 4 – the most advanced stage, then survival rates are only around 15 percent. It is thought that each month in the UK, around 1000 women die from the disease, making early detection crucial in ensuring survival.

Commenting on the news, Samia al Qadhi, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Care 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.”

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