LIFESTYLE
04/05/2018 14:16 BST

Breast Cancer Screening Error: What To Do If You Can't Get Through To The Helpline

The helpline, set up to advise women on what to do next, has received 10,000 calls.

A helpline set up two days ago for women who didn’t receive invitations for crucial breast cancer screening appointments had received just under 10,000 calls by midday today. The large figure is perhaps unsurprising given that 450,000 women are believed to have been affected by the computer error.

Public Health England (PHE) said the helpline has been particularly busy during peak times - so first thing in the morning, lunchtime and evenings.

When the helpline struggled to cope with demand (it had received 8,000 calls by 4pm on Thursday) people were turning to breast cancer charities for advice and support. Breast Cancer Care’s senior clinical nurse specialist Rachel Rawson told HuffPost UK that calls to the charity increased “dramatically” in the last 24 hours.

So what do women and their families need to know if they might have been affected by the NHS screening error? We spoke to PHE, Breast Cancer Care and lawyers about what to do next. 

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Stock image.

Call A Helpline

PHE has advised people struggling to get through to its helpline (0800 169 2692) to call a charity: Breast Cancer Care or Macmillan Cancer Support can help.

Rawson said when worried patients or their partners call in to the charity, they ask them if they have any signs or symptoms of breast cancer that they’re worried about. “If that’s the case, we are directing them to their GP,” she added.

Check For Symptoms

Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, Fiona Osgun, said: “A lump isn’t the only symptom of breast cancer and not all people with breast cancer develop one.” Other signs to watch out for include: 

:: Thickening in the breast or armpit.

:: Change in the size, shape or feel of the breast.

:: Breast skin changes like puckering or redness.

:: Nipple discharge.

:: Changes to the position of the nipple.

:: A rash on or around the nipple.

:: Nipple sinking into the breast.

If you have any of these symptoms you should book in to see your GP.

Visit The NHS Choices Website

The NHS Choices website now has a designated page for women who are concerned they weren’t invited to screening. Key takeaways from the page are that women who missed a screening invitation will now be aged 70 to 79, and that those who do not receive a letter from PHE by the end of May 2018, and are registered with a GP in England, can be reassured that they did not miss a screen. It also explains why the error happened in the first place.

Wait For A Letter

A spokesperson for PHE told HuffPost UK that women affected by the error will start receiving letters notifying them that they need to attend screening by the end of the week.

Women aged 70-72 years old will receive the first batch either today or tomorrow. To help GPs keep on top of demand, the second batch of letters will be sent to 72-79-year-olds before the end of May.

It is believed the letters will notify women of the error and encourage them to set up a breast screening appointment as soon as possible with their local GP. Most breast cancers occur in women over 50, so it is crucial that this group of women are screened.

Book In For Screening 

Breast Cancer Care has received calls from women concerned they’ve missed an invite to screening, but also younger women in their fifties who are worried about whether they should be having screening or not. Rawson said one silver lining is that the issue is helping to raise awareness of the importance of screening among younger groups. “There are women out there who have not gone to their screening yet and want to rectify that,” she added. 

Rawson has been directing women over screening age (50+) to their local screening unit to find out when their next screen might be. 

“For women over 70, we are reminding them that screening doesn’t stop at 70,” she added. “They can have one for the rest of lives every three years, but they have to take the initiative to set that up. They are not formally invited.”

Consider Seeking Legal Advice

Olivia Mitchison, senior solicitor in the Medical Negligence team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, says women who suffered a delay in diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer as a result of not being invited for a screening “may be able to bring a medical negligence claim for compensation against the NHS and should seek independent legal advice”.

Robert Rose, head of the Clinical Negligence team at Lime Solicitors, estimates that for people who have died after missing screening, the NHS is looking at compensation claims in excess of £5 million. He adds: “If we factor in other damage caused to women who have survived and the costs of legal action, if that becomes necessary, we are looking at figures of anywhere between £50-£100 million.”