The number of mistakes being made across the NHS relating to vital tests for cancer is scandalous – there can be no other description for it.
It has been revealed that 43,200 women have been affected by a blunder which meant they either were not sent letter reminders or invitations for their smear tests earlier this year, over a period of months.
And given all that has been done in recent years to raise awareness amongst women over the importance of being regularly tested, and to act quickly on any abnormal findings, the current situation is a disgrace.
The issue has been traced back to the outsourced company Capita, which has a £330million contract with the NHS to provide GP back-office services.
The company itself has blamed the error on processes not being properly followed, and quite understandably The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors in the UK, is calling for its contract to be terminated.
Of the thousands of women affected, 4,508 have not received results letters due to the blunder.
It means some women may not have been made aware that abnormal cells or concerns were identified in their tests. Some may have since celebrated news of pregnancies without knowing they had cervical cancer.
Such a situation could leave them now facing life-changing decisions whether to end their pregnancy for treatment, or to delay treatment until a later date, and possibly after their child is born. Imagine being faced with that life scenario because of an NHS administration blunder.
Given about 3,000 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer, killing about 850, the number of errors happening relating to testing and results is truly shocking.
In February it was confirmed that the cervical cancer test results of thousands of women in the Essex area would have to be reviewed as a number of patients tested by the same lab were wrongly given the all-clear.
Women aged between 24 and 29 who underwent their first smear test, and a number of women in their 60s, were amongst those whose test results are being reexamined.
Over the past few years, a huge effort has been made to ensure women do not miss their smear tests and know the importance of doing so.
It followed the death of television star Jade Goody in 2009, who admitted she had ignored a letter saying abnormal results had been found for a 4th time, as she was scared to go back to hospital.
She died aged just 27, resulting in the number of women aged 25-29 asking for a smear test rising by a third – an extra 37,000 women in their late 20s – the following year.
Women aged between 25 and 49 who are registered with a GP automatically receive an invitation to screening every three or five years, depending on their age, but recently there has again been concerns about a sharp rise in those ignoring invitations.
Such apathy only heightens the need for the NHS to be fully focused on this area, driving women to ensure they are regularly tested and contacted about their results.
Sadly, is not only with regards to cervical cancer that serious errors continue to be made.
In May, it was admitted that 135 to 270 women ‘may have had their lives shortened’ due to 450,000 crucial screenings for breast cancer being missed.
On that occasion a ‘computer system failure’ was blamed for an error which meant women aged between 68 and 71 were not invited to their final breast screening between 2009 and the start of 2018.
These continued errors by the NHS are putting the lives of thousands of women at risk.
It truly is an utterly shameful and inexcusable situation.