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The Breast Cancer Screening Scandal – What Will Happen Now?

By Senior Associate, Clinical Negligence

Mistakes in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer give rise to a significant number of claims for damages by patients who have suffered loss as a result of medical mistakes.

While the most common reported error in the past has been a failure by individual clinicians to refer patients for investigation, women and their families caught up in the breast screening failure that was reported this week have demanded answers as to how hundreds of patients may have had their lives cut short.

We decided to explore what happened in this case:

What went wrong?

The NHS breast screening error was caused by a glitch in a computer system that routinely asks women aged 50 to 70 to come for a mammogram every three years.

The error, from 2009, caused 450,000 women now aged between 70 and 79 to be missed off invites to screening. This could potentially have denied them the chance to receive life-saving intervention.

How has this affected patients?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that between 135 and 270 women could have had their lives shortened as a result of the “administrative incompetence”.

Mr Hunt has apologised “wholeheartedly and unreservedly” and has launched an independent review as Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said it was a “colossal systematic failure”.

What happens now?

Out of the women who didn’t receive their invites, 309,000 are still alive and all of those living in the UK who are registered with a GP will be sent letters informing them about the error. They will receive their letters before the end of May.

Of those, women under 72 will be invited to a screening and those over 72 will be given access to a helpline to enable them to decide if screening would be suitable.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said women invited for a mammogram to make up for missed screenings will have a maximum waiting time of six months.

The helpline for those who think they may be affected is 0800 169 2692

Laura Preston represented many of disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson’s victims. She is a specialist medical negligence lawyer.

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