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May 8th 2018

Cancer Claims

Missed breast cancer screening tests scandal: What you need to know

Chris Moore

Chris Moore

Senior Solicitor and Joint Head of Clinical Negligence

Missed breast cancer screening tests scandal: What you need to know

More than 300,000 patients are to be contacted by the NHS for urgent scans after it was revealed an IT system failure had caused 450,000 women to be denied potentially life-saving breast cancer screening over the past decade.

More than 300,000 patients are to be contacted by the NHS for urgent scans after it was revealed an IT system failure had caused 450,000 women to be denied potentially life-saving breast cancer screening over the past decade.

Here are some of the key questions you may be asking;

Am I likely to be one of the women who missed a test?

If you were aged between 68 and 71 during the period from 2009-2018 then you could have missed a routine screening as a result of this computer error.

That is because women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are currently automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years and should receive their final invitation between their 68th and 71st birthday.

Due to the error, women in that age category over the past 10 years have not been sent letters offering them a final routine breast screening.

Why is the screening test so important?

Around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime and the disease becomes more likely with age.

Screening enables health professionals to catch breast cancer while it is still in its infancy and therefore make treatment easier.

The X-ray test, known as a mammogram, is used to spot signs of cancer which are too small to see or feel.

Mammogram results are usually sent to the patient and her GP within two weeks. Around five per cent are usually called back for further tests.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

According to NHS Choices you should also see your GP if you notice any of the following:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast
  • Breast pain isn’t usually a symptom of breast cancer.

Will somebody be contacting me if I missed a test?

Yes. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that all women affected, aged up to 72, and registered with a GP, will be contacted by the end of May via letter inviting them for a catch-up screen.

Women aged 72 to 79 will receive a letter providing clear information on what to do next if they want to have a screen and will be asked to contact a helpline.

People who are registered with a GP and are not contacted by health officials have not been affected and will not need a new screening test.

My relative had breast cancer and died in this time. Could missing a screening test have been a contributory factor?

This is a question that a Public Health England (PHE) investigation will now look to establish.

It has been revealed that around 150,000 women who missed tests as a result of the error have since died.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted between 135 and 270 of them developed breast cancer that shortened their lives.

Am I likely to be able to claim compensation?

The Health Secretary has already admitted in Parliament that any case where the missed scan is established as a ‘likely cause of death’ would be eligible for compensation, but it is not only cases where lives have been lost where damages can be sought.

Mr Hunt has admitted there may be some women who receive a letter saying they missed a screening having only recently had a recent terminal diagnosis.
In this scenario, there may be possible legal action linked to the delay in diagnosis, and the impact that has had on their treatment and prognosis.

What should I do next?

Public Health England has set up a helpline on 0800 169 2692 for women to call for advice.

Charities including Breast Cancer Care and Macmillan Cancer Support have helplines and offer information about screening on their websites.

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