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Breast Cancer Screening Error May Have Caused Deaths

Breast Cancer Screening Error May Have Caused Deaths

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed the news today as he told the Commons that a “computer algorithm failure” dating back to 2009 meant many women aged 68 to 71 in England were not invited to their final routine screening.

We normally see errors by individual clinicians, but the fact this has happened as a result of a computer algorithm is deeply worrying, particularly if there was no human oversight.

It’s estimated that between 135 and 270 women had their lives shortened as a result of the blunder but it is not known whether any delay in diagnosis resulted in avoidable death.

Public Health England (PHE) has launched an independent review into the “serious failure” in the programme.

Mr Hunt said administrative incompetence” meant some families may have lost, or be about to lose a loved one to cancer.

Around 309,000 women are estimated to still be alive and all those living in the UK who are registered with a GP will be contacted before the end of May. All women who were not sent an invitation for their final screening will be given the opportunity to have a new appointment. Those under the age of 72 will receive an appointment letter while those over 72 will also be offered a screening and have access to a helpline to decide if it will be beneficial.

Apologising “wholeheartedly and unreservedly” for suffering caused, Mr Hunt told Commons today: "Many families will be deeply disturbed by these revelations, not least because there will be some people who receive a letter having had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer.

"We must also recognise that there may 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 you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence.”

Mr Hunt also said that victims who developed cancer unchecked because of the scandal will be entitled to compensation, as will the families of those who have lost loved-ones because of the error.

Laura Preston is a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Slater and Gordon. She said: “This scandal is truly shocking and goes beyond any delay in screening we have ever seen. We normally see errors by individual clinicians, but the fact this has happened as a result of a computer algorithm is deeply worrying, particularly if there was no human oversight.”

Laura, who represented many of disgraced breast surgeon Ian Paterson’s victims added: “It is crucial that those affected are told immediately and that they are screened as soon as possible to limit the undoubted worry and suffering they are currently dealing with.”

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