IT errors were responsible for missing invitations to breast cancer screenings for 450,000 women in the UK, it has been revealed. The error has been estimated to be connected to between 135 and 270 deaths, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Hunt has now called for an inquiry into the errors. He has told the House of Commons following Prime Minister’s Questions that a ‘computer algorithm failure’ was responsible for the failure to send out invitations. He also said that the best estimate they currently have is that between 135 and 270 women’s lives were ‘shortened as a result’ of the errors.
Hunt has described the failure as ‘administrative incompetence’ and has told the Commons that due to the nature of the errors, it will be worse in some parts of the country than others.
Breast cancer screening invitations should have been sent to 450,000 women before their 70th birthday. The problems developed after 2009, according to the BBC. Of these women, 150,000 have now died, and the remaining 300,000 are in their 70s.
The screening programme is run by Public Health England and was intended to send out letters to these women invited them to come for a mammogram. Going forward, women in their early 70s who missed an invitation will be offered a screening.
Public Health England has since issued a statement, saying: ‘The problem was identified in January whilst reviewing progress of the age extension trial (AgeX). It then became apparent that a similar impact has resulted from long term problems with the routine programme as well. In addition, some local services have not invited everyone for a final screen in the three years before their 71st birthday.
‘PHE has carried out a thorough investigation including a detailed analysis of data going back to 2009 and has been advised by experts and clinicians. The fault has now been identified and fixed and women who did not receive their final routine invitation and are registered with a GP are being contacted and offered the opportunity to have a catch up screen.’
Some on Twitter are now calling for Jeremy Hunt to resign as a result of the failure. Hunt became health secretary in 2012.