Breast Cancer Screening: Women’s lives put at risk due to an apparent administrative error

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt made a surprising and shocking statement speaking in the Commons. He issued an apology to hundreds of women whose health may have been placed at risk as a consequence of a failure to be called for a breast scan. Unfortunately, those who have been affected may never know whether this applies to them which has caused much distress for women who fall into the cohort.

The cause of the error as Mr Hunt describes it, is due to an IT upgrade. Mr Hunt has promised a full independent enquiry to look into this. This is to be chaired by Lynda Thomas, the chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support. Letters are due to go out to 309,000 women who may have been missed and up to 270 may have sadly died of a breast cancer that could have been detected and treated earlier.

Whilst Mr Hunt apologised ‘wholeheartedly’, this will be little comfort to those who have either not been called, or worse, who have cancer and wonder whether earlier detection would have changed the outcome of their cancer diagnosis.

NHS England offers screening for breast cancer for women between the ages of 50 to 70 on a three-yearly basis in order to detect early signs of cancer. Mr Hunt stated that approximately 450,000 women between the ages of 68 and 71 did not receive a routine invitation since 2009.

What should I do if I think I am affected?

You can call the Public Health England Helpline – 0800 169 2692. You may have a wait to get through as on Thursday of this week they had received 5,000 calls by midday. Breast Cancer Care have seen a surge in calls by women who are seeking reassurances. We would also suggest contacting your GP to discuss your concerns.

What can I do if I want to know my rights?

At Switalskis we regularly deal with cases involving missed and delayed diagnosis of cancer and we appreciate how devastating this can be both to those whose health is affected and their wider family. We understand that your priority right now will be to find out if you are affected by the announcement. However, if you would like to talk to a lawyer if you believe that you or a loved one have been subject to similar negligence, please do get in touch. The Medical Negligence team can be contacted on 0800 138 0458 or you can send us a message via the contact form below.


Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.

Natalie Cosgrove

Natalie is an Associate Solicitor within our Clinical Negligence team in Sheffield. She qualified as a Barrister in 2008, then cross-qualified as a Solicitor in 2011. She joined Switalskis in November 2016. Natalie's profile