Breast cancer screening scandal: 100s of women may have died

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United Kingdom health secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised for the administrative error which meant 450,000 women, aged between 68 and 71, never received their final tests.

Sky News reports that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today that the government is conducting an independent review into the NHS screening process.

Early indications suggested that between 135 and 270 women had their lives shortened as a result of the error, Hunt said.

Public Health England insist that the system is now fixed and that they are confident that screening programmes for bowel and cervical cancer are robust.

The estimated 309,000 women who are still alive and living in the United Kingdom will be contacted, with 65,000 letters being sent out this week.

"A complex IT problem with the breast screening invitation system has led to some women not being invited for their final screen between their sixty-eighth and seventy-first birthdays".

While it's well-known that a lump in the breast could be a sign of the disease, there are many lesser-known symptoms that women (and indeed, men) should be aware of, as treatment is more successful if it's detected early.

Belinda Radley, 57, said that her mother, Trixie Gough, never received a letter and died three days after Christmas 2015. About 141,000 of the women affected, who should have been invited for a scan when aged 68 to 71, are now dead.

Public Health England discovered the problem after analysing data and has apologised to the women affected.

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Baroness Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said the failure to notify so many women about their screenings was unacceptable.

He said oversight of the screening programme had "not been good enough".

Some of the women have since developed cancer. After 70, women can still have screening if they choose to by contacting their GP.

"Clearly we're very sorry for what happened", the Medical Director said, "and it is a system that we provide along with colleagues from NHS England, the Department of Health".

He called for Hunt to ensure that the NHS will have the staff it needs to carry out the additional work.

All those under 75 will be offered a catch-up screening and women who wish to be screened will be invited in the next six months, but this is likely to be sooner, Hunt confirmed.

"I look back now and think everything that happened since could possibly have been avoided or lessened", Ms Minchin told the BBC.

But Mr Hunt said those estimates came with caveats as it was based on on "statistical modelling rather than patient reviews".