Hundreds of women have had their lives shortened due a “serious failure” in the NHS breast cancer screening programme which meant thousands of women were not invited for screenings, the Health Secretary has told MPs.
Jeremy Hunt told the Commons an estimated 450,000 women around the age of 70 were not invited to final screenings between 2009 and 2018, admitting “there may be between 135 and 270 women who had their lives shortened” as a result of the failing.
“Tragically there are likely to be some people in this group who would have been alive today if the failure had not happened,” he said.
Of the estimated 450,000 women who missed invitations, 309,000 are estimated to still be alive.
All those living within the UK who are registered with a GP will be contacted about the error before the end of May, with the first 65,000 letters going out this week, Hunt said.
Women who have already received a terminal cancer diagnosis are likely to be among those to receive a letter informing them their screening appointment was missed, the House of Commons heard.
Hunt said he realised it would be devastating news for those whose health had already suffered.
“I apologise wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused,“ Hunt added, promising that all those affected who wished to be screened will receive an appointment in the next six months.
Affected families will also be offered support and compensation, he said.
According to the Cabinet minister, women were not invited for screening due to a “computer algorithm failure dating back to 2009” which was flagged in January by Public Health England. An independent inquiry into the error has now been launched.
Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are currently automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years.
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy and public affairs, said: “It’s very concerning to learn that so many women have not received an invitation to screening over a prolonged period of time.
“We know this may leave many women with questions about breast screening. If you suspect you have been directly affected by this or if you are over 50 and haven’t had a mammogram in the last three years and would like one, the NHS Choices website provides further information and the option to contact your local unit to book an appointment.”
Greenwood added: “It’s worth remembering that many breast cancers are still found by women themselves, outside of the screening programme, so if you notice any unusual changes in your breast, see your GP straight away.”