Jeremy Hunt orders urgent probe into 450,000 missed breast cancer screenings
Jeremy Hunt has today launched an inquiry after it emerged that up to 450,000 women may have missed crucial breast cancer screenings due to an IT failure.
In an urgent statement to MPs, the Health Secretary apologised “wholeheartedly and unreservedly” to women who had developed cancer after the NHS had failed to invite them to a routine screening that could have prolonged their lives.
Mr Hunt said those families affected would be “deeply disturbed” to discover that loved ones could have been saved from the condition had it not been for “administrative incompetence”.
The Health Secretary told MPs that women aged between 68 and 71 had not been invited in for the crucial cancer tests because IT errors had meant thousands of letters were not sent out.
He estimated that between 135-270 people may still “have been alive today,” had it not been for the glitch.
Women who have missed out on the tests will now have access to catch-up screenings and a dedicated helpline will be set-up to advise patients and families.
Mr Hunt added that the 309,000 women who were still alive would now be informed by letter that they had missed the test, warning that some may have received a cancer diagnosis in the meantime.
He said: "Many families will be deeply disturbed by these revelations. Not least because there will be some people who will 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.
"So on behalf of the Government, Public Health England and the NHS I apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused.
"But words alone are not enough. We also need to get to the bottom of precisely how many people were affected, why it actually happened and most important how we can prevent it ever happening again."
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth welcomed the probe and called for reassurances from the Government that no more patients would be affected by IT failures.
He said the thoughts of MPs on both sides of the House would be with those "whose screening was missed and who sadly lost their lives from breast cancer or who have subsequently developed cancer".