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Almost half a million women put at risk of breast cancer

NHS helplines have been inundated with calls since it was revealed that almost half a million women in England have been put at risk of breast cancer because of an IT failure.

Breast screening programmes, which were set up in the 1980’s, are routinely offered to women between the ages of 50 and 70 each year. Invitations are sent out to women every three years, up until their 71st birthday.

However, a computer error has meant that since 2009, around 450,000 women, between the ages of 68 and 71 failed to receive an invitation for their final screening.

According to Breast Cancer UK, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, and this is expected to rise.

The chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. It is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer, with around 150 new cases each day – almost 55,000 a year.

The screening involves a mammogram, which is a type of x-ray that can detect tumours well before they are large enough to feel; this early detection has no doubt saved the lives of many thousands of women.

This was a serious failure that will have affected an unknown number of women. Compensation will likely be paid to those affected; however, in our experience of medical negligence claims, families generally put far more importance on getting answers to their questions and reassurance that it will not happen again.

Health minister, Jeremy Hunt said “best endeavours” would be made to contact the next of kin of women who had missed a scan and subsequently died of breast cancer.

For women who did not receive a final screening appointment:

Women under 72 years who are affected by the issue will receive an appointment letter inviting them for a catch-up screening

Women between the ages of 72 and 79 who are affected will be sent a letter advising them what to do next – a helpline has been set up for these women, call 0800 169 2692

Author: Gail Harris

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